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Collins Aerospace girls-and-engineering event attracts 100 area students

Marion Homeschool Assistance Program students (from left) eighth grader Hannah Isaacson, ninth grader Sarah Pawlus and ninth grader Hannah Pawlus program a drone during Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day’ at Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Marion Homeschool Assistance Program students (from left) eighth grader Hannah Isaacson, ninth grader Sarah Pawlus and ninth grader Hannah Pawlus program a drone during Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day’ at Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Jacee Platten is a few years from deciding on a career, but she took the opportunity to explore the field of engineering Thursday by attending Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day at Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids.

“It’s hard to find STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities for girls,” said Platten, 13, an eighth-grade student at Oak Ridge Middle School in Marion.

“Here (at the Collins Aerospace event), it is interactive and we can learn about different things we can do or develop. There is a lot of good advice for girls who might want to get into engineering.

“I like the concept of building things like bridges and houses.”

Platten was one of 100 middle-school-aged students from Eastern Iowa who attended the annual event that Collins Aerospace hosts to celebrate Engineers Week, Feb. 17-23.

Collins Aerospace hosted more than 1,000 female students for similar events at 21 company locations around the globe.

The students attending the Cedar Rapids event participated in activities such as building a prosthetic arm for a child in need, learning how circuits work, flying a drone and learning how to defend a system from cyberattacks.

“This is part of our educational outreach efforts, and we specifically focus on young women and underrepresented minorities,” Adriana Johnson, corporate social responsibility program manager, said Thursday. “Today we are 100 percent focused on bringing in young women who might not have an engineering mentor in their lives.

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“We are bringing them into our ‘house’ and matching them up with strong female leaders who work at Collins Aerospace. They follow the student through the day and explain their career path.

“They also get to do a lot of activities to show young women that the math and science they are studying right now has relevance later on in their life.”

Studies have found that girls’ interest in STEM peaks at about age 11, but then falls off once they enter into high school. Johnson said a lot of the decline has to do with confidence issues.

“Some girls don’t like to fail,” Johnson said. “When they do fail, they tend to say, ‘I’m not good enough for this. I’m not going to try it.’

“There also is the lack of mentors. When I meet a female engineer, I ask what brought them into engineering. Ninety percent of the time it was someone who tapped them on the shoulder and suggested they would be a good engineer.”

From an early age, Adriane Van Auken wanted to become an engineer. The 2017 Collins Aerospace Corporate Engineer of the Year was inspired by her father, who was an engineer at the company, then Rockwell Collins, for 30 years.

“We built computers at home and I was able to come with him for a couple of the company open houses and see what he was working on,” Van Auken said.

“Getting to build things with him at home and see what he did here really excited me about becoming an engineer.”

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