April 5, 2012

High School Students Experience Engineering First-Hand at Cornell

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Graduate students from Cornell’s College of Engineering welcomed 41 families to Olin Hall on Saturday for the University’s third annual WOMEN event, an outreach program designed to give female high school students the opportunity to experience the study of engineering first-hand.

The program allows high school students and their families, the majority from nearby rural areas, to take part in hands-on laboratory experiments and attend informational panels. Members of WOMEN — which stands for Women’s Outreach in Materials, Energy and Nanobiotechnology — hope the event will inspire more female students to pursue careers in engineering.

“We are trying to get women to actually think about going into engineering when they go to school,” said Kathy Rogers grad, a chemical and biomolecular engineering student. “Females are underrepresented in a lot of the engineering majors.”

In addition to exposing students to engineering disciplines, members of WOMEN said the program also helps recruit students to Cornell, in particular.

“Cornell typically targets the closer high schools,” said Deirdre Costello grad, operations facilitator for WOMEN. “I think it’s good exposure for Cornell to reach out to schools outside of Ithaca.”

As an outreach coordinator for WOMEN, Rogers said parents have expressed increased interest in Cornell because of their children’s experiences with the program.

WOMEN invited students in the 10th grade, Rogers said, “because next year, the girls will start looking at colleges and start figuring out what they want to do.” She said that the event gives students an opportunity to learn how to best prepare to apply to the engineering college.

According to Prof. Susan Daniel, chemical and biomolecular engineering, who is the faculty coordinator for WOMEN, the program is maintaining a long tradition of encouraging young women to pursue STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — majors at Cornell.

This has “had an impact on getting our undergraduate classrooms nearly 50-50 female [to] male, at least in chemical engineering,” Daniel said.

In addition to learning more about the field of engineering, the students who visited Cornell on Saturday were able to participate in several interactive, hands-on experiments in Olin Hall, Costello said.

For instance, the high schoolers learned about viruses, watched students demonstrate how to make nylon and took part in a laboratory experiment in which they were taught how to make lip gloss and perfume, according to Rogers and Costello. Later in the day, parents were able to join their daughters in the lab to experiment with extracting DNA from bananas.

Parents could also attend a financial aid seminar and to take a campus tour. Additionally, faculty spoke to parents at an informal seminar about the latest news in engineering at Cornell.

According to Daniel, survey results from previous WOMEN events show that parents appreciate the chance to be involved in the program.

“Our formula seems to be just right, as our feedback is always incredibly positive,” Daniel said. “We find that many rural parents haven’t had much college experience themselves and don’t have a really clear picture of engineering, so it is critical to engage them — to equip them with the correct information that can effectively influence their daughters’ decisions toward STEM careers and college.”

The program is also well-received by participating high schools, according to Costello.

“Not only are schools sending students back each year, but more and more schools are accepting Cornell’s invitation,” she said.

Daniel said that, ultimately, “everyone wins” in the WOMEN program.

“The 10th grade girls get a taste of college life … and a chance to see what is thrilling about science and engineering; the parents get information that helps them prepare their daughters for college and encourage them into STEM careers; the graduate students learn how to lead and mentor; and the faculty get the chance to promote science,” she said.

Original Author: Rommia White

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