The Society of Women Engineers (SWE), Air Zoo museum, and local companies from the west Michigan area have a goal to instill in one day a rudimentary impression on young girls that science, math, art and problem solving is a world they can find their dream career. The annual Air Zoo & SWE Corporate Engineering Challenge exposes girls, aged 9 to 12, to the field of engineering in a fun learning environment. It’s no secret that engineering is a male dominated field, and we can start changing that by encouraging girls to design, manufacture and test their ideas.

As a project engineer intern for MANN+HUMMEL USA Portage, Michigan location and a junior university student pursuing a manufacturing engineer bachelor’s degree, I experience firsthand the lack of women engineers in the work force and in my classes. My male colleagues are brilliant and kindhearted exceptional people, but I believe this career can benefit from a woman’s perspective and be less intimidating and more inclusive environment. That is why I volunteered to be a mentor for a group of girls for the 2017 Air Zoo & SWE Corporate Engineering Challenge.

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The event took place at the Air Zoo, a museum dedicated to airplanes, on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. Innovative local companies help sponsor this event, and their engineers, particularly women engineers, volunteer to show the girls what they do with displays they set up and explain why they choose this career. 128 girls participated for free this year not counting the children from the regular museum admission. Eight girls were randomly assigned to MANN+HUMMEL USA with 16 company groups participating. Some of the admission children there are so young, they do not get the scientific concepts of the displays, but the fascinating activities expose them to the multiple areas engineering touches. Each display is informative, for example, MANN+HUMMEL USA has a display airbox where glitter can be put into the intake valve, and you can watch it flow through the airbox showing how it works. They inspected a miniature mold were plastic is molded into parts, and they touch different plastic resins that makes our products. They felt the rubberiness of Santoprene, the hard and jagged regrind pellets, and resin composed of some fiber glass and silicone oil. Consumer’s energy has the girls form a circle grabbing each other hand in hand with two light bulbs that light when they form a closed circuit.

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They also gave the girls scratch and sniff pamphlets with the smell of natural gas to teach them if they smell this again, they should get to a safe area. The Western Michigan University College of Engineering has the girls make lava lamp necklaces with water and oil in assorted colors. Whirlpool has them build platforms to support weights made from noodles from their noddle machine, and the event supervisors and adults seemed really interested by Whirlpool’s new siphon coffee machine.”

The girls also competed in an airplane challenge to build a gliding sport airplane from a small box and a cargo plane using a big box. They could only use materials such as construction paper, hot glue, popsicle sticks, tape, straws, rubber bands, tinfoil, bubble wrap, and paper clips. The girls competed with the other 16 company groups to see which airplane glided the longest distance. MANN+HUMMEL US won the ‘Best Use of Materials’ award.

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The girls were wonderful and very curious about learning. They asked questions to a panel of women engineers with the special guest being a NASA engineer manager and Collier trophy winner. A trophy given out by the National Aeronautic Association once a year “for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.” She made it through her entire education as the only woman studying to become an engineer, and she was able to earn a pilots silence and manage a team of engineers in one of the most esteemed agencies in the world.  At the end of the day, the girls learned about women who have worked in an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, designers for surgical instruments and now they know their community supports them if they wish to follow in their footsteps.