Third annual "Introduce a Girl to Engineering" program at WPI

Program is part National Engineers Week celebration

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5706

Worcester, MA - February 6, 2003 - "Engineering" - the word conjures up images of bridges and dams to most people, but the field of engineering has an impact on almost every area of our lives.

The perceptions of engineering are changing, as is the make-up of students going into the engineering field. For the third year, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is hosting programs for high-school girls and students of color in February to celebrate National Engineers week. "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day" is scheduled at the WPI campus for Tuesday, February 11, 2003 from 3 to 6:30 p.m, and is sponsored by 3M. "National Engineers Week Celebration" is scheduled at the WPI campus for Wednesday, Feb 12, 2003 from 3 to 6:30 p.m. More than 60 students from several Massachusetts communities will participate the two programs this year.

Organized by Suzanne M. Sontgerath, program coordinator for WPI's Office of Diversity and Women's Program's, the program first started with Stephanie Blaisdell, WPI's Director of Diversity and Women's Programs.

"The goal of the programs is to reach out to pre-college girls and underrepresented minority students," said Ms. Sontgerath, who is also a WPI alum. "Participants in the programs will learn about the engineering design process from WPI students. In teams, they will use this process to redesign a bicycle helmet to better meet a particular need - such as for cyclists that like to wear ponytails. Participants will also experiment with equipment in WPI's Fire Safety and Robotics Labs and interact with students and professionals to learn more about studies and careers in engineering," she explained.

These kinds of programs are part of Dr. Blaisdell's outreach to women and minorities. She aims to enlighten young people about the wealth of opportunity in engineering. "The most common comment I hear from girls is, 'I had no idea this was engineering,'" she said. And that's a main strategy she is using in her job at WPI. "Research tells us that girls enter science because they want to help people, the environment and animals so I want to show them how engineering does this."

Biomedical engineering is an example of a fertile career area that too few girls explore, said Blaisdell.

"Girls often have no idea that, for example, you can use a computer program to study breathing patterns related to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome," she said. "Girls love to see a job is going to make a difference in people's lives."

"This is a hot topic," Blaisdell said. "The federal government wants to keep America's competitive edge; industry wants to do the same. We're always going to need engineers - they are integral to the functioning of our world. We have to recruit the best minds, no matter what packaging they come in."

Blaisdell notes that gender differences are disappearing in math and science achievement tests in K-12 education.

"We've had a lot of success in that age group," she said. "Now we have to step up to the plate and get them interested in engineering. But the competence is there."

"Unfortunately, most girls just don't get information about engineering," Blaisdell said. "The girls who make it into engineering tend to be mentored by a parent, teacher or counselor who says, 'Hey, you are good in math or science. You should look into engineering.' We want to level the playing field so boys and girls get equal exposure to look at engineering as a career."