SWE brings STEM to girls

As one of the larger Society of Women Engineers (SWE) student chapters across the country with approximately 45 active members, the University of Minnesota’s chapter participates in a number of outreach activities to boost the number of young women in the science and engineering fields.

At the CSE Expo, 22 SWE members showed middle schoolers how to make a Brush Bot, which involved attaching the head of a toothbrush to a small motor. Once connected, it created a small robot that moved randomly around the area.

"We enjoy sharing what we have learned and helping others develop interests in fields we feel passionate about."

--Maggie Nelson

“It’s a simple, but exciting demonstration that kids can see and relate to,” said Maggie Nelson, a CSE student and SWE’s outreach director. “With this quick and easy project, we showed how creativity opens up a new world of opportunities.”

In addition to participating in the CSE Expo, the group conducts a number of outreach activities throughout the year—the largest being “See Yourself in CSE” and “Technically Speaking” in partnership with CSE Admissions. With nearly 300 high school students and their parents in attendance last year, SWE members presented the various fields students can study in CSE, conducted experiments and demonstrations, hosted a Q&A panel for parents, and shared their experiences as women pursuing engineering degrees.

SWE members partnered with the Science Museum of Minnesota in a “Girls and Science” event that introduced science concepts, including Non-Newtonian fluids and chemical reactions, to elementary and middle school students. They also participated in SWE-Minnesota’s Girl Scout Patch Day where Girl Scouts performed a variety of experiments to earn a merit patch reflecting what they have learned.

“The highlight of last year’s Patch Day was helping to build a bio-dome from rolled newspapers,” Nelson said. “This coming year we hope to host a Girl Scout Patch Day on the University’s campus in conjunction with the CEMS (Chemical Engineering and Materials Science) Women’s Group.”

Even more outreach is on the horizon. “We’ve been contacted about off-site visits to schools to lead small experiments and talk about the STEM fields,” said Nelson. “There’s a lot of interest and we hope to do more where possible.”

“Giving kids hands-on experiences helps them learn and introduces them to a potential future career,” she said. “For us, we enjoy sharing what we have learned and helping others develop interests in fields we feel passionate about.”