March 8, 2018 | Photo caption: Nearly 100 middle and high school girls joined University of Tennessee, Knoxville Society of Women’s for Tomorrow’s Engineers Today, a day to mentor girls interested in joining the STEM fields.
Nearly 100 middle and high school girls from the East Tennessee region gathered at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s (UTK) campus for Tomorrow’s Engineers Today, an annual event hosted by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). During Tomorrow’s Engineers Today, the students involved in the University of Tennessee SWE section led the middle and high schoolers through lab tours of the UTK Tickle College of Engineering facilities, guided hands-on STEM activities, and discussed their own experiences as women in STEM fields.
The SWE members divided each STEM activity by field of engineering – including aerospace, mechanical, biomedical, and materials science. This explanation illustrated the wide variety of disciplines in engineering, and the diverse opportunities for studies and careers in all the engineering fields. Middle and high school students learned about the UTK SynDaver named MABEline, a sophisticated synthetic full-body cadaver, and how MABEline allows SWE students to learn about the human body and biomedical engineering opportunities. “We get a lot of girls who think that engineering isn’t for them, and then they meet MABEline and change their minds,” said UTK assistant professor in Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering (MABE), Dr. Elizabeth Barker.
In addition to seeing the lab space and learning about UTK engineering opportunities, middle and high school students participated in hands-on STEM activities to learn how engineering fields can be applied in a real-world scenario. Students learned about chemistry and chemical reactions by building silly putty using food coloring, borax, water and other materials. Concord Christian sixth grader, Arba Zhao, described how studying chemistry inspires her future STEM career, “If we can use chemistry to make things explode, we have to also be able to create. There are many areas needing new creation, including creating new antibiotics and cures for diseases like cancer.”
In addition to activities for students, SWE also hosted sessions for parents and educators. During the parent sessions, SWE students spoke about their own experiences in college and decisions pursuing internships, co-ops, and research during their undergraduate careers. SWE members talked about the support group that they have created to mentor young women throughout the engineering program. Webb Middle School sixth-grade science teacher, Jamie Bonetti, explained the importance for young girls, parents, and educators to recognize the interest and support available for the growing number of women in STEM fields, “Many of my students don’t have an idea of the number of other girls who have an interest in engineering. But coming to this event and seeing all of these girls with similar interests in STEM allows the them to break the stereotypes that are created externally and even among themselves.”
SWE has hosted Tomorrow’s Engineers Today for 6+ years, welcoming more than 600 middle and high school students to the UTK campus, creating a sense of mentorship for girls in the STEM fields. “Though science and engineering are stressed in high school, it’s different between men and women. My freshman year, I used to get strange looks when I would come into a big engineering class because I would be one of only a few other women. We can do more to encourage women to pursue STEM and to know this is a field they can excel in. Tomorrow’s Engineers Today helps to introduce that mentorship network to girls at a young age,” explained SWE member and UTK senior in biomedical engineering, Jenna LaColla.
IACMI hosts several interns at UTK who are also SWE members and sponsored the event as part of its workforce development initiative. “Encouraging the next generation of female STEM leaders is important to IACMI, and important to building the workforce of tomorrow. We are happy to support the UTK Society of Women Engineers who are able to use their own experiences to grow the future engineering field. These women are supportive, intelligent, and leaders at UTK. They are great examples for future female engineers,” said IACMI Workforce Manager, Joannie Harmon Heath.