Community

Eighth-grade girls get taste of engineering at hands-on Collins Aerospace event

Eighth grade students from Alburnett Middle School assemble a mechanical arm at Collins Aerospace's #x201c;Introduce a G
Eighth grade students from Alburnett Middle School assemble a mechanical arm at Collins Aerospace’s “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” day last Thursday. (Thomas Friestad/The Gazette)
/

With the right inspiration, tomorrow’s engineers could recognize their passion today, Collins Aerospace representatives hope.

Specifically, with its 19th annual “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day,” the aerospace and defense behemoth hopes to expand the number of female engineers entering the field in the next generation.

Collins Aerospace has such events planned at 55 locations in eight countries through March 6, through which the company expects to host 2,300 young female students, hoping to pique their interest through hands-on engineering activities.

One hundred eighth-grade students from Corridor-area schools gathered Thursday morning at Collins Aerospace’s C Avenue NE location in Cedar Rapids. There, participants worked with Collins mentors in teams to build mechanical arms and test programmed drone flight paths.

Engaging the female students at a young age is key, as studies have shown they tend to lose interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields around adolescence, said Jade Groen, associate director of program management at Collins Aerospace.

Out of 1,911 engineering degrees awarded in Iowa, 18 percent were earned by women, 2017 statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics show.

“We need to catch them now,” Groen said. “(Through the event) they can see that not only does engineering impact people’s lives, but they can do it. They’re only 13 to 14 years old and they can do this job. It’s only going up from here.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Part of the company’s approach toward this end, she said, is demonstrating to the girls how engineering work has real-life impacts.

For instance, the company sends the mechanical arms built each year to third-world countries, where they’re given to people missing limbs of their own, said Adriane Van Auken, principal systems engineer at Collins Aerospace.

“Sometimes, they come in and they don’t even know what an engineer does, and so by bringing them here to Collins Aerospace, they get to do a hands-on activity,” she said. “We show them software engineering, we have drones, we get to show them our labs and show them all the cool stuff that engineers get to work on every day. That gets them excited.”

The company also announced it is committing to $100,000 to DiscoverE, the founding organization for “Introduce a Girl to Engineering,” to provide continuing support for STEM education.

Collins Aerospace surveyed the Cedar Rapids eighth-graders before and after its Thursday event. Beforehand, 38 percent of the female students said they would consider an engineering career, while 62 percent said they would not or were not sure.

Following the event, however, 90 percent of students said they were more likely to consider an engineering career.

Ninety-eight percent of the students also said they had a better idea of what an engineer does, with 100 percent responding that they have a better idea of what Collins Aerospace does, after attending the event.

Alexis Spence, an eighth-grader at North Linn Middle School, said she found the company’s event fun, on account of “being able to construct things ourselves and not just watching someone else do the work.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Spence said she always has been interested in engineering, but Collins Aerospace’s event highlighted mechanical engineering in particular as a possible career path.

“It’s a really great way to get girls more involved in engineering, since it’s what we need most,” she said of the event.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.