Engineering a better world with girl power
Above: Madison Arebalo, 9, channels her inner engineer as she builds a filtration system to clean contaminants from water during the afternoon session of GEAR Day on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU
Nearly 200 girls from Girl Scout troops and schools around the Phoenix metropolitan area stormed Arizona State University’s Tempe campus for GEAR Day on Saturday, March 30.
GEAR Day is an outreach initiative hosted by ASU’s Society of Women Engineers chapter. The event offers girls and boys a glimpse of science and engineering through interactive activities and design challenges, such as building solar cars and experimenting with buoyancy. Participants from second to 12th grade have the chance to explore new interests and see the impact of science and engineering on everyday life.
“Engineering is all about using different tools to solve issues facing society,” says Elizabeth Jones, the outreach coordinator for ASU’s Society of Women Engineers chapter and an electrical engineering major in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “If girls like building things, creating new tools and using their imagination to solve problems, we should encourage them to do so through engineering.”
This year’s event had a sustainability theme to help girls and boys understand how the work of engineers can be applied to practical applications and prominent issues in the world. The participants learned about the importance of clean drinking water from the crisis in Flint, Michigan, the need to protect marine life from oil spills and the demand for renewable energy as a clean alternative to power the world.
Equipped with newfound knowledge, the participants put their skills to the test and started building solutions. They created water filtration systems, devised methods to clean up oil pollution and constructed solar-powered cars.
“Too many girls believe they can’t do engineering simply because they are a girl,” says Kamawela Leka, a volunteer at the event and a biomedical engineering major in the Fulton Schools. “It’s important to inspire these young girls to pursue engineering because the more minds we have tackling some of today’s biggest problems, the better we have a chance to solve them.”
Girl Scout troop leader Roberta Rice and her daughter, Emma, have been attending GEAR Day for about eight years. She believes the event dispels common misconceptions about science and engineering, such as it’s for boys, it’s boring or it’s too difficult for girls. She says it’s important for girls to know these fields are fun.
“I love GEAR Day,” says Emma Rice, a sophomore at Highland High School and a Girl Scout member. “You get a taste of everything. When I was very young, I built a catapult and solar-powered car. Now, I’m creating a device to help the ocean get rid of oil and trash — a serious problem for the Earth today.”
In addition to solving pressing societal needs, Emma Rice enjoys meeting new people and learning how to collaborate and work as a team. These are critical components of the engineering design process.
“An engineering tool to solve a problem is only as strong as the diversity of the team that creates it,” says Jones.
Jones grew up in a small town where the idea of a female in engineering wasn’t accepted. She decided to pursue engineering because people told her she couldn’t even though she knew she could. Now, she is dedicated to being a role model for young girls and an advocate for getting more women into engineering professions.
Cynthia Arebalo, a bilingual elementary education major in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, brought her daughter, Madison, to the event with the hope of showing her all the possible career paths available.
“Madison really likes science and math, and does really well in them,” says Arebalo. “I just want her to know she has options and she gains more confidence in her ability to do whatever she wants.”
Arebalo was also incredibly grateful the Society of Women Engineers didn’t charge admission for the event but instead hosted a school supply drive to donate to middle and high school teachers across the Valley.
Nearly 60 volunteers from the Society of Women Engineers and other student organizations in the Fulton Schools helped ensure GEAR Day was a successful event. The volunteers were committed to showing parents and participants the breadth of engineering and the importance of diversity of thought in the field.
“Young girls still see so many paths cut off for them simply because of the prejudices and stereotypes that still surround them,” says Leka. “Girls can do so much more than people believe.”