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Young Women Tackle Engineering at Feb. 23 Career Workshop

Nearly 200 area students are expected to attend the 37th annual workshop for young women thinking of becoming engineers.

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February 21, 2008 | by Megan Fellman
[video: See demonstrations of physics phenomena and learn more about Career Day]

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Learning about prosthetic and orthotic devices, using 3-D goggles to view reconstructions of metal and making paperweights out of concrete. These are just a few of the activities featured at Northwestern University's upcoming 37th annual Career Day for Girls, a career workshop for young women thinking of becoming engineers.

Nearly 200 high school and middle school students from Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana are expected to attend the outreach program -- the oldest of its kind in the Chicago area -- from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at the Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, on the Evanston campus.

The event introduces participants to the wide range of opportunities available in engineering and is sponsored by the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the University's chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). This year's theme is "Engineering: Preserving Your Future Through Design."

The day's events include an engineering design competition, tours of laboratories, hands-on experiments, captivating demonstrations of physics and chemistry, a goal-setting workshop focusing on different engineering majors, and separate panel discussions for students and parents.

"It is our duty as educators to show young women the diverse opportunities in the field of engineering and to encourage them to seriously consider it as they prepare for college," said Ellen Worsdall, assistant dean of the McCormick School. "McCormick is very committed to its female engineering students, and Career Day for Girls is an important extension of that commitment."

McCormick alumna Laura Skubal, an environmental engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, will kick off the program with a keynote address from 9:15 to 9:45 a.m. in the Technological Institute's Ryan Family Auditorium.

In the design competition, held immediately after the keynote address, teams of five will use rubber bands, straws, washers, paper clips and tape to build a prototype of a new amusement park ride. From the auditorium's balcony, each team will launch its design to see if it can safely deliver its occupant -- in this case a Ping-Pong ball -- to the floor below.

Students on lab tours will learn how Northwestern's Prosthetics Research Laboratory and Rehabilitation Engineering Research Program is working to develop improved prosthetic and orthotic devices for patients; use tiny wireless sensors to monitor a room remotely; design a people mover system for the University; learn about tissue engineering; see how water is filtered for safe drinking; learn what the periodic table has to do with giving gemstones their beautiful colors; operate a robot car; and see and learn about a pacemaker designed from computer chips.

The popular chemistry and physics demonstrations emphasize the importance of these fields to the study of engineering. Eberhard Zwergel, a senior lecturer in chemistry, 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 a gravity-defying bicycle wheel, are only obeying the natural laws of physics.

In a hands-on afternoon session, held at the same time as some of the panel discussions, middle school students will try to illuminate a light bulb using a potato, build a building out of note cards that can withstand wind gusts and develop a structure that protects an egg when it is dropped more than six feet -- activities that will expose the students to aspects of civil, mechanical and electrical engineering.

In addition to engineering faculty, graduate students and administrative staff, 60 Northwestern undergraduates (male and female) will serve as volunteers. The career workshop is held in conjunction with National Engineers Week (Feb. 17 to 23).

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.