Program encourages girls to consider engineering

Middle-schoolers gather at Hopkins for 'Ready Set Design'

December 06, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen |

Forty area middle-school girls gathered Saturday for a novel engineering program called "Ready Set Design!" encouraging women into a field where they have been underrepresented.

"You graduate from engineering school and go on to improve an aspect of human life, and make a difference in the world," a poster on the wall encouraged the young students gathered inside Levering Hall on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus.

Dr. Lester K. Su, professor of mechanical engineering at Hopkins and one of the organizers of the program that began in 2005, said its intent was to get more women thinking about the field.

"They have the experience in math and science," Su said, "but they seem to get steered away in middle school from considering engineering, which tends to be dominated by males."

The three-hour session sought practical solutions to real problems that have a social and environmental impact.

At one table, engineering student mentors Sara Smith and Brinna Fogel guided Jessica Cohen, Tori Gumtow and Kelly Khern in building a search-and-rescue vehicle for victims of earthquakes and building collapses. At another, the challenge of creating a self-sustaining mountain exploration vehicle able to gather soil and plant life and record its exploits on film had the team members scratching their heads.

"It'll need special arms to scoop the soil," said Corin Brewer, a student at Eastern Technical High School. "We can use the spider's legs as our model. They are very flexible."

Over at the "machine shop," about a dozen Hopkins engineering students translated line drawings into actual parts, using Styrofoam, wood and dowels. Once it was assembled, Cohen gave her group's search-and-rescue vehicle a quick coat of pink paint. "We want it to stand out," she said.

"This isn't a competition," Su said as the students presented their creations. "Because competition is about winning and losing, and this isn't about losing."

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