Engineering conference leaves Willmar, Minn., girls with new knowledge, new dreams
WILLMAR -- A couple weeks ago, this group of girls may not have been able to describe what an engineer does. Now, they are bubbling with newfound knowledge, and several are talking about the engineering careers they want.
The transformation has come from a trip to the "Wow! That's Engineering" conference at Normandale Community College in Minneapolis.
Fourteen fifth-grade girls from Roosevelt Elementary School attended the April 27 conference with Roosevelt science teacher Heidi Van der Hagen.
But perhaps the most important cargo on the trip home were the dreams for the future that began at the conference, which was hosted by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.
Van der Hagen said the society was especially interesting in reaching kids from districts with many low-income families. Roosevelt fit the criteria, so she looked into it.
The society offered to cover all expenses, including transportation and lunch for the Willmar girls, because more than half the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Not all the students on the trip fall into that category, however.
The Willmar girls came home with bright red science-themed T-shirts and sacks of small projects they'd worked on at the conference.
They also came home with some new dreams. Talking about the trip earlier this week, the girls were still bubbling with the fun they had and the things they had learned.
All of the girls said they like studying science.
"When you're doing science, you can do what you want to," said Addy DeKraai, 11. If an experiment fails, you have to do it again, she said, but "it's just fun to do it."
The day meeting women engineers and learning about what they do made her more interested in science, said Grace Monson, 10
"I want to be an engineer, because you get to build stuff," said Zeinab Igale, 11. Her interest right now is civil engineering.
"I think engineering is very interesting," said Elizabeth Carlson, 11, who wants to be a biomedical engineer and work with people who need prosthetics. Her aunt is an engineer, too, she said.
Bailey Erickson said she is interested in medical engineering, too, "because I want to help people with other disabilities."
The projects they worked on at the conference introduced them to different types of engineering. Electrical engineers helped them make bugs with plastic eyes the light up. They developed packaging for s'mores and made scented lotion while talking about ways to make their product better.
Each girl made a kalimba, an African musical instrument also called a thumb piano.
They made small bouncing balls and then tested them to see how they bounced on different surfaces.
All got certificates for participating in the conference.
Van der Hagen said she is already looking forward to taking even more girls to the conference next year.
"I was very pleased with it," she said, and she hopes the "positive science experience" will help keep the girls and other students interested in science.
Nearly all of the girls there were from the metropolitan area, and the hosts were pleased to have someone from as far away as Willmar, she said. For some of the Willmar girls, it was their first trip to the Twin Cities, she added.
Girls were chosen for the trip through teacher referrals and through Van der Hagen's observation of their interest in science.
The girls who went on the trip were Zeinab Igale, Presleigh Schrupp, Bailey Erickson, Grace Monson, Maria Elene Garcia, Leslie Montoya, Maddie Daniel, Kimberly Dominguez, Elizabeth Carlson, Alexis Dersch, Addy DeKraai, Megan Warner, Claire Lu and Alex Contreras.