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For the Maker Challenge, three eighth-graders on Team Seven work on their design for an all-in-one device that includes toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and mouthwash.

A Saturday full of exploring engineering careers, brainstorming solutions and innovation awaited forty-five high school and middle school girls at the Memorial Union as part of the Girls Make-a-thon on November 4, 2017. The event gave the eighth through twelfth grade girls a chance to interact with women, including current Fulton Schools students and industry professionals, who are active in  engineering fields.

“I love outreach,” said Winter Calkins, a sophomore studying electrical engineering. “When I was growing up, I never saw anybody like me that was an engineer. I think that if I had had more exposure to engineering, I could have been on this career path a lot longer ago. I hope that I can expose girls to these kinds of ideas and role models.”  

Both Society of Women Engineers (SWE) members, like Calkins, and members of Women in Computer Science (WICS) were there to answer questions and share their experiences studying engineering.

“I’m pretty lucky that I have some really good female leadership at my company, but there is still some disparity there,” said Rie Hinze, a recent graduate and WICS member. “I want to make sure girls have exposure early on to computer science, exposure that I didn’t have.”

Fellow WICS member Julia Liu agreed.

“There are a lot of younger people here who really aren’t sure what they want to pursue, and I want to share computer science with them,” said Liu, a CIDSE mentor for ASU freshmen. “Especially being a woman myself, I want to show them that they can be successful.”

An hour-long Speed Networking Fair allowed the girls to talk with engineers in all branches, from electrical engineering to software engineering.

“Last year, I started coding. I wanted to make a website to start a business, so I was able to talk to some website people today. It was interesting to see the process,” said Esha Sidhu, a ninth grader.

The main activity for the day was the Maker Challenge, a competition between teams of three to four girls, where they created an idea that makes life easier in some way, be it an app or device. While they built the prototype, they stayed within a budget for their supplies, such as a duct tape, cling wrap and buttons.

With the clock set for one hour, brainstorming sessions ensued. Ideas ranged from consumer inventions, like slides to prevent a chair from squeaking when it is moved, to an app that would force quit apps a person spends too much time on. This challenge gave the girls a taste of a process well known to engineers.

Anjali Mulchandani, a doctoral student studying environmental engineering, encouraged her group to come up with improvements to mundane tasks.

“I’m really interested and invested in the future of women in engineering,” Mulchandani said. “I’m a firm believer that the workforce needs to represent the community that you’re working for.”

Though the girls are looking to enter an industry that is male dominated in both the classroom and workforce, they are even more determined about their choice.

“That’s why I want to go into engineering in the first place,” said Sara Curry, a junior who already studies engineering at a STEM-focused high school. “I kind of want to fight against that social standard.”

Sierra Smith, a high school freshman, shared that sentiment.

“I don’t really think about it,” Smith said. “I think about what I can do, and what I want to do, so I can pursue it.”