High school girls learn about engineering opportunities at University of Delaware event

It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in engineering nationally, receiving 21.3 percent of all engineering bachelor’s degrees in 2017, according to the American Society for Engineering Education.

At the University of Delaware, a sorority of women in engineering and technical sciences is doing its part to change that. On Nov. 10, the Alpha Omega Epsilon engineering sorority’s Nu chapter at UD hosted a discovery day for high school girls.

The goal of the day? Inform female high school students about engineering and computer science, show them opportunities in these fields and highlight the rise of women in STEM careers. The event was open to girls in their sophomore, junior or senior years of high school who are interested in studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields after graduation from high school.

Fifty girls from 26 high schools attended the event, which was held at UD’s Center for Composite Materials. The high school students learned about different types of engineering from Heather Doty, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Debra Yarrington, assistant professor of computer science; Sue McNeil, chair and professor of civil and environmental engineering; Sarah Rooney, assistant professor of biomedical engineering; Rick Martin, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Cathy Fromen, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering; and Jenni Buckley, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The high school students also participated in a campus tour, a lunch and question-and-answer session with members of Alpha Omega Epsilon and a hands-on activity,Scrappy Circuits, which teaches fundamentals of building and understanding electrical circuits using inexpensive, common materials.

“We are very proud of the continued great work of our UD Alpha Omega Epsilon chapter,” said Michael Vaughan, associate dean of engineering academic affairs, the college unit that works most closely to support the development of the college student organizational leaders. “We are very fortunate to have a vibrant and innovative Alpha Omega Epsilon chapter within our college ranks that has the interest and insight to reach back to inform the career aspirations of these talented young women. Alpha Omega Epsilon in partnership with our faculty and other college entities creates the perfect team to encourage these young women to see themselves within the Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math (STEAM) space not only as learners but also as contributors in solving the most pressing global challenges of our age.”

“One of my favorite parts of the day was the hands-on activity,” said Rebecca Clements, a sophomore honors biomedical engineering student, the academic and scholarship chair of the Nu chapter of Alpha Omega Epsilon, and the lead organizer of the event. “I was a little nervous about it, but all of the girls really loved it and successfully built their circuits so that they could light an LED. I thought it was great that they were all so enthusiastic and willing to problem solve and try new things to get the circuits working properly.”

Clements knows how impactful this early exposure to engineering concepts can be.

“I went to a lot of events like this in high school, and they really benefited me and helped me decide to pursue engineering,” said Clements, who grew up in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. “I thought it would be really cool to do this for younger girls.”

Alpha Omega Epsilon member Robyn O’Halloran, a sophomore majoring in environmental engineering, volunteered at the event because she wants girls to know their options. In high school, the Havertown, Pennsylvania, native excelled in math and science and was intrigued by the idea of engineering — except that she didn’t really understand what it was.

“By getting involved in this sorority, I’ve been able to see the different types of engineering and processes that different things do and how it all creates a sustainable future for us,” O’Halloran said. “I wanted to do this outreach to help girls understand the different aspects and things you can do. That’s really helpful for girls who are pursuing this because a lot of people don’t really know what engineering is.”

UD’s K-12 Engineering group, which hosts camps and offers educational units to teachers around the country, also helped with the event.

At the end of the day, the attendees filled out surveys, and one girl wrote that her favorite part of the day was “seeing so many strong and powerful women in one room.”