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Snow can't dull girls interest in engineering

A midday snowstorm cut short the annual CHOICES program in late February, but the girls who came to Lehigh from four local middle schools were still inspired to learn about career opportunities in engineering.

Only about 20 percent of college engineering students across the U.S., and at Lehigh as well, are women.

The purpose of CHOICES (Charting Horizons and Opportunities in Careers in Engineering and Science) is to encourage girls to consider engineering as a career and take prerequisite courses in math and science in high school.

"Why should boys have all the fun?" David Wu, Iacocca Professor and Dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, asked the girls during his opening remarks.

"Sometimes engineers are associated with being nerdy, brainy or weird," Wu said. "Brainy? Maybe. But not nerdy or weird. There are a lot of cool, well-adjusted girls who become engineers."

He listed some of the useful products created by engineers, such as Ipods, TVs, and cell phones.

This year's CHOICES program, sponsored by the RCEAS and the Lehigh chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), offered hands-on engineering projects such as building bridges from gum drops and pasta and creating funny putty from borax and glue. Snow prevented girls from several schools from coming and forced the cancellation of many of the day's activities.

"The greatest value of CHOICES is for young girls to work side-by-side with talented women faculty and students in engineering and learn to appreciate engineering as a human endeavor, rather than some abstract concepts in a book," said Wu.

Lehigh has hosted the one-day CHOICES event four times since 1998. Last year, the engineering college hosted the first annual one-week CHOICES summer camp.

"The Society of Women Engineers was excited by the opportunity to once again share their interest and enthusiasm for engineering with younger female students," says Rosemary Berger, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, who is faculty advisor for Lehigh's chapter.

"So many teenagers have never heard of engineering," says Allison Cook '07, a bioengineering major. "When girls begin to think about if they want to go to college and what major they want to have, it is very important for them to be aware of their options. CHOICES reaches out to girls to make them aware of their opportunities and for those already familiar with engineering, CHOICES shows that them females, as well as men, can be very successful as engineers."

The day's events included ice breakers and experiments making funny putty from borax and glue, building batteries from fruits and vegetables to power a LED light, and designing a device to protect an uncooked egg from a 30-foot drop. Unfortunately, the weather only allowed the girls to participate in the ice breakers and one of the three experiments. When the girls learned they had to head back to their schools early, their disappointment was clear.

Some of the middle-school girls had already demonstrated an interest in science and engineering, which is why they were chosen to attend CHOICES.

"Our teacher picked the girls with the highest grades in science, said Joanna Mintzer, a student at Notre Dame of Bethlehem School. "I want to get a degree in medicine, and maybe get some kind of biology-related science degree before that," she said.

"We had to write an essay describing why we wanted to come today," said Kavita Jain-Cocks, a student from Moravian Academy.

Maureen Wink '05, president of SWE, said she hopes that even if the girls don't choose to pursue engineering, they'll know they can.

"They'll know what engineers are and what they do, and they'll know that engineering is an option open to them.

"That will make this program a success."

Posted on Saturday, March 05, 2005

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