“What Happens If I Do This…?”

| May 4, 2012

Twenty-five sixth-grade girls from Nelson Middle School in Lovingston came to Sweet Briar in February for the first “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day.” The event was part of National Engineering Week (Feb. 19-25).

While Sweet Briar has hosted high school girls before, this marks the first time 11- and 12-year-olds were invited to put their engineering skills to the test.

“Many of them are scared of science because they think it’s a boy thing,” says Vickie Mays, math teacher at Nelson Middle School.  And yet, she says, the girls had been excited about this day. “I actually have a lot of boys that were upset that they couldn’t come.”

The event focused on building an audio speaker. The girls were each given small plastic containers that held a speaker kit. The kit contained all the necessary elements for building a simple speaker: one plastic cup, one Styrofoam cup, one piece of sandpaper, one small square magnet, one speaker jack, insulated wire and two rubber bands. It also came with detailed instructions and pictures.

In addition, the engineering department provided a variety of miscellaneous items students could use in the process, such as colorful paper plates, cupcake holders and wire whisks.

“We want to encourage them to be creative,” says Hank Yochum, director of the Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program. “We want them to say, ‘What happens if I do this … ?’ ”

Throughout the two-hour session, Hank and assistant engineering professor Bethany Brinkman, as well as student assistants Kate Fanta ’15 and Kelsey Barta ’15, roamed from table to table to help the girls build their kits, and to explain how electromagnetism works.

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Category: Summer 2012