Workforce Development at STRIDE

STRIDE Works to Introduce Engineering to Middle School and High School Girls

STRIDE Partner Universities Engage Children and Parents in Family Fun Activities

Other K-12 Workforce Development Events


STRIDE Works to Introduce Engineering to Middle School and High School Girls

Research from the National Science Foundation (NSF) indicates that, while many women graduate with college degrees, few choose engineering as a major. According to the research, this trend may be due to factors such as classroom climate and lack of engineering role models for young girls, leading to diminished interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects for females.Preparing egg for crash test

The STRIDE Center is working to change these statistics. We have funded a project entitled Engineering: It’s for Girls, Too, which aims to acquaint high school girls with engineering, particularly transportation engineering, as a viable career option. The project is a response to the USDOT Transportation YOU initiative, a partnership with the Women Transportation Seminar (WTS) to provide hands-on interactive, mentoring programs to young girls to introduce them to a wide variety of transportation careers. The University of Florida (UF) and North Carolina State University (NCSU) are collaborating on the project, and both institutions have offered several events in support of the effort. In 2012, the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) at NCSU teamed up with the North Carolina Department of Transportation and WTS on a series of workshops to offer engineering, particularly transportation engineering, to sophomore and junior high school students in North Carolina. The first event, which focused on surveying, was held in Raleigh, NC on December 13, 2012 and was attended by 20 girls. A Transportation YOU event, also in Raleigh, was held on February 23 in collaboration with WTS, which focused on the role of archeology in transportation engineering.

Engineering requires teamworkThe CTE then worked with NCDOT to co-sponsor three Introduce a Girl to Engineering workshops, which were held in various locations in the state, including Raleigh on February 14 (30 girls attended), Winston-Salem on February 19 (44 girls attended), and Greenville on March 13 (27 girls attended). The girls completed hands-on activities such as creating a safety restraint system for an egg strapped to a toy truck during a staged crash. The girls were given time to design and build their project with guidance from an engineer before the toy trucks were “crashed” at the bottom of a ramp. The eggs were then checked to see how well the safety restraint worked.

Two future chemical and civil engineers from Boone High school, working together to create a gravity flow hot chocolate machine. Back in Florida, local middle and high school girls are also benefiting from the STRIDE grant. In the spring of 2013, five Engineers Change the World: A Hands-on Workshop for Girls 13-18 Years Old were hosted by the University of Florida Transportation Institute (UFTI) and held at different venues, primarily at middle and high schools in Gainesville and Orlando and at UF and University of North Florida campuses. The activities concentrated on providing a variety of exposure to different engineering fields, including chemical, civil, mining, mechanical, environmental, and geological, with emphasis placed on the importance of teamwork. The first workshop was attended by eight girls on January 26 at the UF campus and was co-hosted by the UF WTS student chapter, which provided a panel discussion and answered questions prior to starting the activities. The next workshop was held at Boone High School in Orlando on March 7, with the assistance of the Central Florida WTS Chapter. Fifteen high school girls participated as well as two volunteers from the WTS Chapter, UF transportation graduate students.  

Future engineer mining for chocolate.On April 10 and May 14, a workshop was held at the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) at Lincoln Middle School in Gainesville and Mebane Middle School in Alachua. A total of thirty two young girls attended, and the feedback provided was encouraging. “Several students told me that they want to be an engineer because they are excited about building things and getting paid to be creative,” said May Steward, Lincoln CCLC Coordinator. “You all definitely made a lasting impression. Thank you so much.” The CCLC provides academic enrichment during non-school hours, particularly to students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. For the final Engineers Change the World workshop, UF traveled to the University of North Florida in Jacksonville on April 13th. This event was co-hosted with the WTS chapter of North Florida. The event made an impression on the parent of one of the participating girls. “I wanted to say thank you for having my daughter on Saturday,” Dianne Woods wrote. “She is usually very shy, but whatever you all did she was talking all the way home. I hope you are going to continue to have other activities in the area. I really think it made an impression on her as she has not really decided what she wants to study in college.”

Girls and women may not be leading in the STEM disciplines yet, but rest assured that STRIDE is working to make a difference to build female representation in the engineering work force.

(Images from top: 1. Participants at the “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Workshop” in Raleigh, secure their egg in preparation for a ride down a ramp; 2. At the February Transportation YOU event in Raleigh, NC, layers of cranberries, raisins, and grapes are mapped in an experiment that simulates an archeological dig; 3. Two future chemical and civil engineers from Boone High school, working together to create a gravity flow hot chocolate machine; 4. A future engineer mining for chocolate.)

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STRIDE Partner Universities Engage Children and Parents in Family Fun Activities

Family Engineering Night is an informal engineering education program designed for children ages 7 to 12 and their parents or other adult caregivers. Mississippi State University (MSU), the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Florida International University (FIU), and the University of Florida (UF) are participating in this STRIDE project. Below is a summary of events that have taken place at each participating institution.

The UFTI teamed with WTS, ITE, and ASCE student chapters at UF to host two events. The first event was on October 25, 2012 at P.K. Yonge Development School in Gainesville during the school’s annual carnival. A total of 24 volunteers taught engineering concepts to 60 student participants during the event. The second event was February 7, 2013 at Lawton Chiles Elementary School in Alachua County, Fla. Seventy six elementary school children participated in the activities with 38 volunteers from the UF student engineering organizations.

MSU implemented the Family Engineering Program in the spring of 2013 at seven schools in the Southern part of the state (or “Gulf Coast Region”). Each event was arranged with school personnel and hosted about 200 K-6 students and their parents. The children completed a variety of activities that introduced them to the work of engineers and a range of engineering fields. The final result was that over 1000 young people and their parents were able to explore engineering and share the learning and building experience as parent and child. In follow-up surveys, parents responded that they were so happy to have learned more about their child’s interests and potential. The parents also shared that they learned a great deal about the fields of engineering and planning with their child for the future.

Florida International University will be implementing Family Engineering Night activities into their summer 2013 program.

UAB held a Family Engineering Night event on March 30, 2013, in collaboration with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) student chapter. More than 40 children in 4th and 5th grade attended from the Birmingham school district. The children learned about engineering disciplines and participated in fun hands-on activities. Transportation-related activities included the five-point traffic jam, straw tower building, and paper bridge building. The workshops were coordinated by UAB ITE and SWE student chapter volunteers. While children worked on experiments, UAB faculty and other engineering professionals offered presentations to educate parents about engineering career options. Virginia Sisiopiku, Ph.D., an associate professor at UAB, spoke about the transportation engineering discipline and careers in transportation.

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Other K-12 Workforce Development Events

Careening CoasterOn March 2, 2013, Morgan Witter, an instructor from the Florida T2 Center under UFTI, piloted a Careening Coaster class in which students worked cooperatively to construct a roller coaster using wire, popsicle sticks, clay, and tape. The eight, 3rd to 8th grade students worked in pairs to build their coaster, which was required to include one 360 degree loop or spiral, one hill, or one 45-90 degree turn. Students discovered the relationship between gravity and mass, viewed videos and slides about the differences between potential and kinetic energy, and learned how engineers use these elements to build bigger and better roller coasters.

Straw BridgeA second pilot class, the Strawbridge Challenge, was held on April 13, 2013. This experience challenged students to collaborate with a partner and construct a bridge using drinking straws, tape, and paperclips. Slides and videos informed the six attendees aged 8-10 on the different types of bridges, the relationship between compression and tension, and the methods engineers use to select materials and bridge types. Students applied their new knowledge of weight, torque, force, and compression to build their bridges with the objective of holding the most weight in pennies. Pairs who finished early had the opportunity for testing and reevaluating the load-bearing capacity of their bridges. Witter developed these curricula in partnership with Leslie Washburn, P.E., workforce development coordinator at UFTI.

Graduate student Thomas Chase shows a high school student how to run a traffic simulationA two-hour workshop was piloted at the UFTI computer lab January 27 in partnership with the UF Center for Pre-collegiate Education and Training. In the workshop, entitled Traffic Simulation Workshop, students received an introduction to traffic simulation, as its many benefits and uses were demonstrated through examples shown by current UF transportation engineering graduate students. The workshop also included hands-on experience using state-of-the-art software, CORSIM, developed by McTrans at UF. Students set up and ran traffic simulations of signalized intersections; where they then experimented with various signal timing strategies to optimize the intersection performance. Finally, students used traffic simulation to explore the interaction between multiple signalized intersections.

Two students testing their response in the Traffic Simulation Laboratory at FIU during the 2013 Engineering EXPOWTS and ITE student chapters hosted a booth at the UF Engineering Fair February 14-15, 2013. Over 150 participants built and raced LEGO cars learning about center of gravity, acceleration, and travel distance.

Florida International University’s (FIU) Engineering Expo took place during the Engineers Week on February 22, 2013. More than 1,700 elementary, middle, and high school students from Miami-Dade County schools visited research laboratories, participated in hands on activities, and explored engineering concepts through competitions. The ITE student chapter at FIU was in charge of the demonstrations at the traffic simulation laboratory as well as various interactive guided tours. Activities throughout the day included a paper plane building competition, races with remote control cars and water rockets, and an aviation flight simulator.

(Images: 1. Students pose with their Careening Coaster; 2. Students use pennies to test the strength of their Straw Bridge. 3. Graduate student Thomas Chase of UF shows a high school student how to run a traffic simulation; 4. Two students testing their response in the Traffic Simulation Laboratory at FIU during the 2013 Engineering EXPO.)

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