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Future Female Engineers Head to Northwestern

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February 15, 2005

Future female engineers will build an Egyptian aqueduct and test self-propelled cars. A popular lecturer will lead a team of chemists in creating explosions. A software engineer at Cisco Systems will challenge young women to pursue their dreams and become engineers. A spinning bicycle wheel will defy gravity and not fall. A materials scientist will explain what gives gemstones their colorful beauty.

All this and more will be featured at Northwestern University’s 34th annual career workshop, the oldest annual outreach program in the Chicago area for young women thinking of becoming engineers. The workshop is sponsored by Northwestern’s Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the University’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and will be held from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, at the Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston.

The program, this year titled “Engineers: Count on Us to  Shape the World,” introduces high school and junior high school girls to the wide range of opportunities available in engineering, encouraging them to consider the profession in their education and career choices.

“Career Day offers participants an excellent opportunity to experience some of engineering’s excitement by meeting a diverse group of female engineering undergraduates, alumnae and faculty,” said Ellen Worsdall, assistant dean of the McCormick School. “This one-day event has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of these young women. Past participants have told us how amazed they were to learn of the variety of careers available to someone with an engineering degree.”

Vidya Babu, director of software engineering at Cisco Systems, Inc., will kick off the program with a keynote address from 9:15 to 9:45 a.m.

An engineering design competition, laboratory tours, hands-on experiments, a goal-setting workshop focusing on different engineering majors, and separate panel discussions for students and parents will follow Babu’s talk. Throughout the day, girls will have an opportunity to meet current women engineering students and alumnae.

In the design competition, held immediately after the keynote address, teams of five will use balloons, thread spools, LifeSavers candy, rubber bands and straws to build a prototype of an energy-efficient vehicle. Each team will test its self-propelled car to see which one can go farthest.

Back by popular demand are chemistry and physics demonstrations, emphasizing the importance of these fields to the study of engineering. Eberhard Zwergel, a senior lecturer in chemistry who is popular with undergraduates, will lead a team of chemists in creating explosions, causing chemical color changes, forming gases and conducting chemiluminescent experiments in a fast-moving show demonstrating the wonders of chemistry. In a separate presentation, physicists will demonstrate a series of phenomena which, while they seem magical, such as the gravity-defying bicycle wheel, are only obeying the natural laws of physics.

In touring various laboratories, students will learn how certain metals remember their original shape when heated or cooled; view demonstrations of the strength and toughness of everyday materials like metals, plastics and ceramics; learn what the periodic table has to do with giving gemstones their beautiful colors; make synthetic gems using high-tech equipment; use tiny wireless sensors to monitor a room remotely; operate a robot car; and see and learn about a pacemaker designed from computer chips.

In their afternoon session, junior high school students will use LEGO kits to create motorized simple machines. They also will learn how to build an Egyptian aqueduct using provided materials and will test their design by having it transport water.

The popular program, which attracts more than 250 young women each year, is held in conjunction with National Engineers Week (Feb. 20-26).

Career Day has been held at Northwestern annually since 1970, when only 4 percent of the students in the McCormick School were women. Today, nearly one-third of McCormick students are women.