Emily Vigesaa, a mechanical engineer at Collins Aerospace in Jamestown, set a plastic bottle of water on top of a small plastic bridge made out of straws and tape. Would the bridge give way or hold the bottle?
One by one, Vigesaa tested five plastic bridges created by teams of girls in grades 9-11 from Jamestown High School with varying amounts of water.
The friendly competition was part of the activities for Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day Thursday, an event held for the first time at Collins Aerospace in Jamestown. The Jamestown location was one of 55 company locations worldwide holding the event with 2,300 female students. Twenty girls from JHS attended.
“We hope they walk away with a better understanding of what engineering is and hopefully an interest in pursuing it as a career path,” said Cassie Long, a systems engineer at Collins Aerospace who co-led the event with Traci Rinehart, senior engineering services analyst.
The task at hand was to use straws and tape to build a bridge that could handle certain weight increments. Team members whose bridge could handle the most weight would receive a 3D trophy made at Collins Aerospace.
Students worked in teams of four, first designing their bridge, paying for materials to build it using play money and then building it. There were only a few requirements: the bridge had to be able to span a 12-inch gap and be at least 4 inches wide.
“A huge part of engineering design decisions is how you’re going to spend your resources,” Long said. “And what we’re trying to teach them here is there are so many different ways to build a bridge."
Rinehart said the activity was about utilizing problem-solving skills. Unexpected scenarios were also added into the activity: a budget cut could remove funds to purchase materials, for example, something that can happen in real life that forces people to adapt and move forward.
Ultimately, the bridge designed by students Janae Brenneise, Olivia Schriock, Kaia Dillman and Breanna Oettle won, holding 1 liter of water.
Besides the bridge activity, the girls took in tours, product demonstrations, resonance and 3D printing demonstrations and heard from a keynote speaker on being in the engineering field.
“We took the girls around to a couple of our different prototypes (mockups) and kind of demonstrated to them exactly what our system does in the field,” Long said. “So we design and manufacture cargo loading systems, so we were actually showing them how you would load cargo on to an airplane or a helicopter, how you would unload it, how you need to lock it into place and just some of the different design features of our systems.”
Ultimately the hope is that some of the girls who attended the event will decide to go into the engineering field.
“Right now, worldwide, it’s like 13% of the workforce" and they're trying to increase that, Rinehart said.
“... when we started this morning (with the event) we asked how many people know what engineering is and not a single student in the room knew what engineering was,” Long said. At the end of the keynote session, the speaker asked how many would be interested in pursuing a career in engineering, and six or seven students raised their hands.
Adam Gehlhar, principal of Jamestown High School, said information on the event was sent to business, technology, math and science teachers to nominate girls who might be interested in this topic. Twenty girls signed up within two days, he said.
“My hope is if we get one girl out of this group of 20 that finds this is her passion and sticks around this community and serves not just this community but our globe with a new solution, that’s a pretty great investment of time,” he said.
The winning team members of the bridge exercise said they thought it was fun, and they combined their ideas to come up with the bridge they designed. At least two of them said they were interested in learning more about engineering.
Rinehart said they want to hold the event annually and include area schools and home-schooled students.