“TEA” Party Encourages Fifth-Grade Girls to Pursue Engineering Careers

swe-tea-collage-grove

By Deb Hall, Professor, Electronic Engineering Technology

What type of engineer makes chocolate taste so good? This question, and many more, were answered on Saturday, February 27, 2016, during a six-hour hands-on science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM)-related workshop, designed especially for parents and their fifth-grade daughters to get the students excited about possible careers in engineering. Approximately 80 people attended.

This “Society of Women Engineers Technology Engineering Aptitude” workshop was more often referred to simply as “SWE TEA.” So of course, SWE members served a variety of decaffeinated teas in beautiful flower-covered porcelain tea cups that each fifth-grader was encouraged to take home as a special souvenir of the day’s fun.

swe-tea-group-grove

Besides participating in a lovely British style “tea” that even the residents of Downton Abbey would have enjoyed, each parent/daughter team participated in several hands on engineering activities geared to showcase the engineering design process and how a person must be creative to be an engineering “artist.” This is where workshop participants learned firsthand where the “A” in S-T-E-A-M comes from.

Activities included building a hovercraft; protecting the noggin of an “Egg Person”; realizing the value of teamwork as a future engineer as they attempted to reverse a Band-Aid on the back of a whale; and designing and building the tallest possible, free-standing (for at least 10 seconds) tower with only a limited amount of tape and one piece of construction paper.

Facilitators shared how engineers need to work as a team and that communication is key, as engineers must write about and verbally describe their ideas to their team members in order to be successful. Throughout the event, facilitators encouraged the students to see themselves pursuing a career in engineering and technology, highlighted the importance that engineering economics plays within the design phase of any project and recommended that students aim to be ethical engineers, as well as cooperative and respectful team members.

The workshop also promoted having a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset,” as failures are often fabulous places to learn. Research has shown that females with a growth mindset are more likely to continue to stay strong in math, science and engineering courses, leading them to successfully attain a STEAM-related career.

Each of the girls received a goodie bag that included a note for parents, suggesting that they read the book “Mindset,” by Dr. Carol Dweck, with their daughters in hopes of planting these much-needed “growth mindsets” early on. The bag also included the book, “Is There an Engineer Inside of You?” by Celeste Baine, from the Engineering Education Service Center.

The original idea for this SWE TEA came from a “Train the Trainer Mother/Daughter Technology Engineering Aptitude” workshop that I attended last year in Oregon, facilitated by this author. During the workshop, I could not get the acronym “TEA” from this “Technology Engineering Aptitude” workshop out my mind and thought it connected well to an actual British-themed “tea” for parents and their daughters. From that workshop came Valencia’s own “SWE TEA.”

We specifically targeted fifth-grade girls, because research reveals that engineering careers must be promoted as early as possible, ideally before middle school, so that girls are self-motivated to remain strong in their math and science subjects throughout middle and high school.

Thank you to the hard-working volunteers from the Central Florida Section of the Society of Women Engineers and the Society of Women Engineers Valencia Collegiate Interest Group, as well as our sponsors, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Women in Engineering; Valencia College’s Division of Engineering, Computer Programming and Technology; and the Engineering Education Service Center.

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