Girl Scout visit to Vanderbilt on Saturday boosts engineering as career option

Two Girl Scouts enjoy success at the mini roller coaster design station, teaching them mechanical engineering. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

Thirty-nine Girl Scouts from around the Nashville area collected Engineering Day patches on Saturday at Vanderbilt University School of Engineering.

The inaugural event featured seven stations that covered environmental, nuclear, mechanical, civil, biomedical and chemical engineering and electrical engineering/computer science. At each station, 25 graduate and undergraduate students led the girls through a simple exercise to demonstrate a sometimes complex engineering concept – for instance, creating an oil spill, using a chemical reaction to launch a soda bottle cap and building a mini roller coaster.

Click here for a photo gallery of Girl Scout Engineering Day.

Organizer Thushara Gunda, a PhD candidate in civil and environmental engineering, said the idea was to form a partnership that interested more girls in studying STEAM subjects — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

Girls put together a makeshift prosthetic leg. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

“In general, girls are just as interested in engineering as they are in any other discipline, but they’re not as exposed to it at an early age, and they lack role models,” Gunda said.

To combat those issues, each Girl Scout received a folder that included a handout about notable women in engineering, plus local resources to continue studying the discipline after Engineering Day.

The Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee’s goal is to ensure that girls are getting exposed to all the careers they’d like to pursue, said Sam Keeney, the organization’s program manager.

“The research we’ve done shows that they may do engineering or science experiments at school, then go home and talk to their parents about it, but the parents don’t have the background to guide them into additional research,” she said. “We’re pooling all of these resources to help them study whatever interests them. Engineering, medicine – we do things with the Titans and Sounds, the Nashville Opera – anything to give them a well-rounded experience.”

The girls who participated on Saturday were juniors and cadets in grades 4-7. They each selected three stations, sighing when it was time to leave one station and go to the next, complaining that they were having too much fun to leave.

“We had a device, and then we connected to a computer and downloaded our program, and when you put your hand over it, it made a light go on,” said Ericka Cleaves, 9, of Clarksville Troop 629, describing the EECS station.

Would she like to come again next year? “Yes! Yes!” she said, running off to the nuclear engineering quiz room.

At the civil engineering station, girls built bridges using toothpicks and marshmallows. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

Troop leader Dena Hollin said she knew Engineering Day would be a great opportunity to expose the girls to fields where women aren’t yet well represented.

“All the girls have been very excited,” she said. “After the first rotation, all of them have been saying, ‘We got to do this, we got to do that.’ After hearing what the other girls did, they couldn’t wait to get to those sessions. If it had been up to my daughter, Isabella, she would have done all seven of them.”

The next big engineering-related event for local Girl Scouts is an invitation to the Society of Women Engineers’ national conference, being held Oct. 22-24 at Music City Center in Nashville.

The Vanderbilt students from across the School of Engineering’s departments who planned Engineering Day are: Alex Smith, Meghan Bowler, Tiffany Heaster, Anne Talley, Holly Zarick, Allison McAtee, Sonia Brady, Erin DeCarlo, Lesa Brown, Ghina Nakad, Rebecca Riley, Megan Woodruff, Justin Paul, Yoko Kanai, Amy Shaw, Elise Hunter, Casey Brock, Kirsten Heikkinen, Tim Ault, Janelle Branch and Bethany Burkhardt.


Heidi Hall, 615-322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering