Rockwell Collins gives girls an inside look at engineering

Cedar Rapids company invites eighth grade girls to tour its campus, hear from female engineers, and participate in a hands-on project at its annual "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day."

Published: February 9 2014 | 4:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:22 am in

Jaylee Chung has always wanted to work with “mechanical stuff.”

The second youngest of eight children, she inherited enough Legos to build a city. She built her first model airplane when she was nine. And her dad, an engineer, was always happy to answer questions about aviation and aerospace engineering.

But when she looked ahead to high school, she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to enroll in Project Lead The Way classes, a pre-engineering curriculum designed to help students develop problem-solving skills by immersing them in real-world engineering challenges.

Rockwell Collins’ annual “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” gave her the push she needed.

“After going to that, I was like, yeah, maybe I should pursue it now and not wait until college,” says Chung, who attended the event last year as an eighth-grader and is now a freshman at Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids. “I signed up for Introduction to Engineering and Design, and I’m really glad. It’s really fun, and it’s a lot more hands-on than my other classes.”

For more than a decade, Cedar Rapids-based communication and aviation electronic solutions company Rockwell Collins has hosted “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” as a way to reach out to an underrepresented population in engineering — females. The company works with local schools to invite approximately 100 eighth-grade girls to tour its campus, hear from female engineers who specialize in a variety of fields and participate in a hands-on project. (This year, participants will work with female engineering employee mentors to build a prosthetic hand, which will be delivered to a child amputee living in a developing country.)

The event coincides with a national effort by DiscoverE (formerly the National Engineers Week Foundation) called “Girl Day,” a movement that shows girls how creative and collaborative engineering is, and how engineers are changing our world.

“We at Rockwell Collins are proponents of having a diverse workforce. We believe a well-managed, more diverse team outperforms a less diverse one,” says Adriana D’Onofrio, senior community relations specialist at Rockwell Collins. “Reaching out to our communities and making sure young female students know that an engineering career is a viable option is a priority to us.”

According to a report from the American Society of Engineering Education, only 18.4 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in engineering awarded in 2011 went to females, she adds.

Rockwell Collins surveys its “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” participants both before and after the event. Last year — the year that Chung attended — 90 percent of the girls who attended said they were more likely to consider a career in engineering after spending time in the company’s offices and labs.

They also indicated that they were surprised to learn things like: there is a lot of creativity involved in being an engineer, how much teamwork is involved in engineering and that many career options come with an engineering degree.

“I was surprised to find out there is such a wide variety of engineers (at Rockwell Collins),” Chung says. “It kind of opened my eyes to what you could do with certain types of engineering. The idea that someone who studied chemical engineering could work someplace where they work with planes was new to me.”

She plans to study aerospace engineering, and eventually earn a master’s or doctoral degree.

While Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is just that — a day — Rockwell Collins also supports local after-school programs that introduce both girls and boys to engineering year-round. They include FIRST Lego League, FIRST Tech Challenge, The Future City Competition and Team America Rocketry Challenge.

“We all need to make sure the young girls in our lives are encouraged and exposed to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers on a much more regular basis,” D’Onofrio says. “This can be done with getting students involved in STEM-based extracurricular activities, doing activities at home, signing up for a job shadow or internship, finding a female mentor or role model and more.”

This article originally appeared in The Gazette's "Discover Engineering" Engineers Week special section, published on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014.

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