April 13, 2010

Graduates Complete Rural Outreach

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There are a number of ways to spend a Saturday; to go shopping, to sleep until noon, to read books or to play with Frisbees on the Art’s Quad. The graduate students of the chemical and biomolecular engineering (CBE) department decided to spend this past Saturday, April 10, a little bit differently from their ordinary weekends. The students hosted high school students from rural areas to expose them to the fields of engineering and science.

“I graduated from a high school in a rural district. The schools in rural area can offer limited number of places for advanced classes for their students, and students rarely get opportunities to learn about colleges. I thought this (event) was a good idea for the girls who excel in math and science to see what is available in their career,” said Jennifer Nugent grad, who initiated the event.

Members of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Graduate Women’s Group (CBEGWG) organized the event, which specifically targeted female high school students grade 10 or younger. 21 high school students from schools in rural districts, as far as two driving-hours distance from Cornell, participated in the event.

“The event was open for high school female students, but both male and female students within our department helped this event,” said Alexandra Corona grad, a member of a leading committee for the outreach event.

The event consisted of laboratory sessions for the students and a college information session for the parents and counselors. During the laboratory sessions, students rotated among three modules of experiments: a process engineering experiment to make lip balms, a bioengineering experiment to do TLC plate separations and a material science experiment to measure shear thickening of corn starch. Students discussed the key processes in chemical engineering, such as batch processing and drug delivery through the experiments. CBE graduate students volunteered to guide each module.

“It was great to see the young girls to be excited about science. They really enjoyed the laboratory sessions,” said Corona.

Prof. Susan Daniel, chemical and biomolecular engineering, led the information session for the parents, where she shared information on college admission, financial aid, engineering careers and graduate programs. Serving as a faculty advisor for CBEGWG, she helped the students to organize the event.

“It was a rewarding experience not only due to the broader impacts on the young students, but also because I could see these graduate students grow to become the young leaders,” said Daniel.

The event included a panel session for parents and students. Undergraduate students from various engineering departments volunteered to answer questions about transitioning from high school to college, course and internship experiences and general college life.

This was not the first effort to encourage women’s participation in engineering and science. A program, called Expanding Your Horizons (EYH) at CCMR, provided a one day conference for grade 7 through 9 girls to experience hands-on activities in math and science.

“Our motivation is same as that of programs like EYH. But in our program, we gave our focus to those who are from rural areas, and also we had programs for parents so they know what their children need to prepare for college and careers in engineering and science,” said Nugent. “Students are already coming up to me with ideas for improvements in this event,” said Daniel. “We hope to hold this event every year, and expand it by collaborating with other departments and recruiting other professionals in engineering and science.”

Original Author: Eugene Choi