Engineering takes center stage at Career Day

Becky Bowman

Jobs in medicine and law might have glitz appeal for young women seeking careers, but an event Saturday put engineering center stage.

The 30th Annual Career Day for Girls, an event designed to encourage junior high and high school girls to consider engineering in their education and career decisions, attracted more than 200 girls, teachers, mothers and a handful of fathers to Ryan Family Auditorium at the Technological Institute.

Sponsors, which included Northwestern’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, said the daylong event was intended to present a true picture of engineering to young women.

“They have this misconception,” said Deborah Resnick, McCormick senior and president of NU’s SWE chapter. “What engineers are doing is really different (from what they think).”

Roberta Gleiter, former national president of SWE and current member of the board of directors for the Junior Engineering Technical Society, gave a presentation on opportunities for women in engineering.

Saturday marked the end of National Engineer’s Week, for which Gleiter traveled across the country. Earlier in the week she spoke at the National Engineering Design Challenge finals in Washington, D.C., where students designed new types of aids for people with disabilities.

Ballpoint pens distributed to the audience during Gleiter’s speech Saturday served as teaching aids. Gleiter pointed out that every detail of the pens, from the ink color to the smoothness of the casing material, was designed by engineers.

Following Gleiter’s speech, the girls in the audience divided into small groups and used brown paper bags of supplies to design devices to carry metal washers and NU stickers from the balcony in the auditorium to hula hoops on the main floor.

The members of one group, two for two in their trials, were confident about their device.

“We have the best design,” said Amber Gell, 16, a high school student from Milwaukee.

Gell and her three teammates spoke enthusiastically about the conference and about engineering, listing role models that included their science teachers and Sally Ride.

Gell said she has been interested in science since her mother took her to see a space-shuttle liftoff in Florida.

Following the design competition, the girls went on laboratory tours and attended panel discussions.

“There are very few places for girls to get the whole picture of engineering,” said Pat Crumley, a doctorate student at NU who brought her niece, Megan Lough, to the conference.

Crumley said an engineering degree is a better foundation for women’s careers than the once-standard liberal arts degree, because of the technical and technological skills required in almost every career.

McCormick Asst. Dean for Student Affairs Ellen Worsdall, who helped organize the career day, said attendants’ responses to the event were positive.

“It’s an awesome opportunity,” Worsdall said. “It does make a difference.”