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Outreach Event Helps Girls See Themselves as Scientists

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A student works on her solar-powered robot kit. 
Photos: Melinda Beyerle, student life manager, IDEA Student Center.

San Diego, Calif., Feb. 20 2014 -- Westview senior Connie Chen watched the tail on the solar-powered “robot puppy” she built wag in the sun on the terrace of UC San Diego’s Price Center Saturday, on Feb. 8. A participant in the fifth annual Envision event, Chen, an aspiring computer programmer, was surrounded by like-minded high school girls similarly testing their own solar-powered creations, which included toy cars, boats and airplanes.

The event drew 190 young women from nearly 40 different San Diego high schools. It was put on by the UC San Diego chapter of the Society of Women Engineers in conjunction with the IDEA Center at the Jacobs School of Engineering and gave students the opportunity to take a tour through the campus’ engineering labs; sit in on lectures given by local professionals and professors; and to build their own solar-powered robots.

“I think this event is important because it gives the girls a glimpse into the variety of engineering fields,” said Asimina Courelli, outreach chair for the Society of Women Engineers. “The lectures and the lab tours provide an insight into the diversity of engineering fields providing input from both industry and academic professionals. The robot activity also gives the girls a chance to apply engineering principles.”

Two students show off their creations.

The event ended with the robot-building activity. Participants were given kits – purchased with funds provided by corporate sponsors Lifetech, Qualcomm and Intel – which came with instructions on how to assemble solar-powered robots.The day began with a lecture by Denise Tung, an alumna and systems engineer at local technology firm ViaSat followed by a talk by Xanthippi Markenskoff, a mechanical engineering professor at the Jacobs School. The students next toured nanoengineering, bioengineering and electrical engineering labs before completing a computer programming tutorial and listening to a lecture from bioengineering professor Karen Christman.

“We would like to expose young women to engineering in a way that is not gender-biased,” Courelli said. “One thing that we hear quite often is that girls are intelligent and creative, but are sometimes not encouraged to pursue engineering. We want to show girls that the engineering field is not exclusively male and that if you have the drive and determination you can do it.”

Melissa Sheehan, a senior at Westview High School interested in studying computer science at UC San Diego upon graduation, had the most fun building her solar-powered car, but also thought the event helped strengthen her interest in computer programming.

“It was nice talking to people who are involved in the field,” Sheehan said. “Seeing all the labs and meeting other people who are studying to become engineers and who want to become engineers made it all seem more accessible.”

Karen Bowers, a chemistry teacher at Monte Vista High School, chaperoned a class of over 20 students and called the event “invaluable” for her students. This was Bowers’ first time bringing a class and she said she hopes her students can continue to participate in Envision in the future.

This story was written by student writer Rachel Uda.

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Xanthippi Markenskoff, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Jacobs School, speaks to students during Envision 2014. 
 

           

             

           

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Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-822-0899
ipatrin@ucsd.edu

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