Program inspires Kyrene girls to become engineers - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Community Focus

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Program inspires Kyrene girls to become engineers

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Posted: Saturday, July 30, 2011 5:00 pm

A group of Kyrene girls embarked on an extensive journey into the world of engineering Monday during the first day of a week-long camp before school starts.

Girls in Engineering: Shaping the Future, an ambitious new program developed with Arizona State University, will look at the progress of 60 Kyrene girls over the course of the next eight years.

The girls are entering their first year of middle school and conclude after they finish their first year of post-high school education.

Each year the girls will log 90 to 100 hours of extracurricular work to further develop their understanding of engineering, program leader Tirupalavanam Ganesh said.

The goal is to get a better understanding of how to raise interest in engineering and science in general for elementary school girls.

“I wanted to study how to engage girls, and that goes for boys too, but there is a shortage of female engineers in this country,” Ganesh said. “This is a way of understanding what we can do to facilitate and grow that engagement.

“We want to study how their interest changes over the years and look at what works to keep that interest and, hopefully, share it with the community.”

The first week of the program, July 25-29, the girls were at SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Ganesh said they were taught engineering basics, potential engineering jobs and they worked on projects throughout the week.

For example, on Wednesday, the girls broke off into groups and designed a solar oven from pizza boxes and aluminum foil.

“Most girls are into girl stuff and you don’t find a lot of them in engineering,” said Skylar Hernandez, 11, an incoming sixth-grader at Kyrene Centennial Middle School. “But these projects are a lot of fun and I look forward to doing more.”

Ganesh said the way they are trying to spur interest is by showing how engineering has been used to help people and make our lives easier since the beginning of man.

“Engineering has been around because it helps us meet our needs,” he said. “If we can show it to, not just the girls, but all kids in a way that reflects how engineering helps, then that will help increase the appeal.”

For the next eight years the girls will rejoin the group for a week before school starts, a week after it ends and two days over winter break, for a total of 90 to 100 hours each year.

“In order for someone to engage in something deeply you need long-term contact,” Ganesh said. “They are going to be consumers of technology and we want them to design it as well. Everything is technology and we want them to think about exploring their ideas.”

For some of the girls, the hands-on part of the week was enough to pique their interest.

“Eight years sounds like a long time, but that’s the best part,” said Andracca Hearn, 11, an incoming sixth-grader at Kyrene Middle School. “I agree that there should be more girls in engineering. I really like the building and designing part of it.”

The 60 girls were selected from a field of 120 that applied to the program. Ganesh said he would have taken more but that was the limit.

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