(Scroll down to see more images from the events described in this article.)
On March 11, 2020, 150 middle school girls from the Sarasota and Orlando areas visited the UF Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering (HWCOE) for a day-long Girls Engaged in Engineering event. Girls began the day with a keynote address from Dr. Christine Angelini in the Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences.
During the day, girls participated in two hands-on engineering activities and toured engineering labs on campus with the Engineering Ambassadors. At lunch, students sat at tables with UF engineering students and were able to ask them questions about why they like engineering, what it is like being a female in the engineering field, and challenges they have overcome.
The STRIDE Center provided a hands-on activity in bridge building and a presentation on research UF is conducting on bridges. Ondine Wells, K-12 Coordinator, was accompanied by Ph.D. Candidate Carlos Soler Ayoroa who conducts research in Dr. Jennifer Bridge’s Smart Infrastructure Management Laboratory. Soler Ayoroa described his research that uses sensors to measure the force of waves on bridges, particularly during storms and hurricanes. Research by Ph.D. student Eduardo Torres on the use of Ultra-High Performance Concrete (UHPC) in bridges was also featured.
Students were then challenged to work in pairs to design and build a bridge out of two sheets of paper, four popsicle sticks, and tape. Given a set of design constraints, the girls had to test their bridge’s strength with rolls of pennies. Girls experimented with many different shapes that they could fold the paper into in order to make the strongest bridge. The winning bridge of the day incorporated a triangle beam and held 18 rolls of pennies over a 9-inch gap! Triangles were then discussed as a key structural shape that is used not only in bridges, but also in everyday objects like corrugated cardboard.
A key goal of the event was to inspire girls to consider engineering as a career path by learning about the wide range of opportunities in engineering and to meet female role models including both students and faculty at UF. One of the teachers expressed, “The UF staff, key note speaker, professors, and student ambassadors were so wonderful. The girls were engaged every moment of the day. Thank you, is not enough for this life changing experience you provided our students.”
The event was organized as part of the K-12 Gator Outreach by Kimberly Jacobs, Director of Engineering Extension and Outreach, Ondine Wells, STRIDE Center, Julee Breehne, K-12 Coordinator of the UF Innovation Station Sarasota County, Marissa Scalise and Maeloni Pompilio of the UF Chapters of Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and Paige Highstone of Women in Transportation Seminar (WTS). An article on this event was recently published in the HWCOE newsletter.