Local High School Girls Encouraged to ‘Change the World’ through Engineering

As part of E-Week activities at the College of Engineering, more than 220 teenaged girls attended Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day on the UM campus.

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UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (February 27, 2015) — For Dasia Gibson it was the banana that shattered into more than a dozen pieces after being dipped in liquid nitrogen. For Danica Forestal it was watching her uncle delete a virus from a PC. And for Saige Drecksler it was the memorial service she attended for the astronauts of the doomed Challenger and Columbia space shuttle missions.

While each high school girl had a different story to tell of what ignited her passion for engineering, it was the common goal of learning more about the field’s many academic and career opportunities that brought them together Thursday for Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day on the University of Miami campus.

More than 220 teenaged girls from 18 Miami-Dade public and private high schools attended the daylong event, touring UM College of Engineering labs, learning about the research being conducted by some of UM’s female engineering students, and putting their problem-solving skills to the test in a series of brain-twisting exercises.

“Engineering is still a male-dominated field,” said UM biomedical engineering major Stacie Arechavala, who, as the high school outreach coordinator for the UM chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, organized Thursday’s event. “We’re helping these girls learn about a fascinating field that can positively affect lives and change the world.”

Arechavala, who became interested in biomedical engineering after two of her friends suffered traumatic brain injuries in high school, noted that the College of Engineering’s 28 percent female enrollment rate is far above the national average of 15 percent. But she would still like to see those numbers grow.

“Girls need role models,” she said.

The youngsters at UM’s Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day had plenty of role models on Thursday. Doctoral student Kelsey Kleinhans gave groups of high school students a tour of her biomedical engineering lab, explaining how she is conducting experiments with pig tissue to learn more about the repair and prevention of injuries in humans.

Ann Zapala, a sophomore biomedical engineering major from Chicago, taught the girls about the efficiency of assembly line production, having them perform an experiment that showed they could produce more origami-style figurines by employing a widely used manufacturing process as opposed to one worker assembling the figures alone.

The high schoolers also competed in a contest to see which team could build the longest and strongest bridge out of K’NEX construction toys.

Drecksler, a student at Coral Park Senior High School, came away from the event even more determined to achieve her dream of becoming an aerospace engineer. “My goal is to make space travel a reality for everyone,” she said.

Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day was part of Engineers Week at the College of Engineering, with other events including a Simulation Boot Camp, concrete canoe demonstration, entrepreneurs forum, and more.

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Kelsey Kleinhans, a Ph.D. biomedical engineering student, explains her research to a group of high school girls attending UM’s Introduce A Girl to Engineering Day.

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