Lehigh University
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Sixty middle-school girls try their hand at engineering

Members of the student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers served as role models to middle-school students at the one-day CHOICES program.

Using chromatographic filter paper, students separate the different types of dye found in markers and candy coatings.

Sixty students from area middle schools gathered last week in the Wood Dining Room to take part in CHOICES, a program that encourages girls to explore career opportunities in science and engineering through hands-on activities.

The program was sponsored by the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science and organized by Lehigh’s student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

“Not only are girls coming to Lehigh, but they’re coming to Lehigh to be engineers,” said SWE chapter president Paige Sutton ’12. “It’s great to know that we’re having a direct impact, and that what we’re doing here is contributing to the field as a whole.”

Several schools participating in Friday’s event have been involved with CHOICES (Charting Horizons and Opportunities in Careers in Engineering and Science) for years. Their teachers said CHOICES serves as a great companion to their math and science classes.

“This is our third time coming and each year, I just feel like I bring back so much for the kids and I’ve been able to implement so many things,” said Ann Chiappinelli, a seventh and eighth grade teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Bethlehem. “It’s just a really fun day for both the girls and myself.”

A firsthand preview of STEM careers

S. David Wu, Iacocca Professor and Dean of the engineering college, welcomed the girls and encouraged them to follow their passions and ask questions.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that science or engineering is for boys or anything of that nature; that’s total nonsense,” said Wu.

The day’s projects gave students an overview of different engineering fields. The students conducted several experiments – including one in which they designed a protective container to enable an egg to survive a 30-foot drop without cracking.

The girls also were also able to make connections between the work engineers do in the classroom and practical applications in the real world.

In the 40 years since undergraduate women were first admitted to Lehigh, the university has sought to increase women’s representation in engineering. A quarter of Lehigh’s current engineering students are women, which outpaces the 18 percent national average.

Last month, the university announced the establishment of a $1 million endowed scholarship program for women studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

“Science and engineering are really cool,” said President Alice P. Gast, who participated in the egg drop competition and the closing ceremony. “It’s a great direction to go in, and I hope that you all do that. I hope this has been a good step along the way.”


Story by Karl Brisseaux

Posted on Wednesday, April 04, 2012

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