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Johns Hopkins Engineering students introduce middle school girls to engineering

February 22, 2018

Blackberrie Eddins was in 6th grade when she first became interested in engineering. A member of a gifted and talented program at her middle school, the Redlands, California, native was “hooked” after doing a project that had her designing, constructing, and programming Lego robots.

“It was so cool! I just wanted more,” said the Whiting School senior biomedical engineering major.

Eddins’ early positive experiences in engineering are why she spent part of last Saturday guiding and mentoring local middle school girls in ReadySetDesign’s Introduce a Girl to Engineering event, held as part of JHU’s 2018 National Engineers Week celebration. Members of JHU’s chapter Alpha Phi Omega co-ed service fraternity also served as volunteers and mentors.

“I think it’s important to do what we can to give young girls a chance to explore engineering in a hands-on way,” Eddins said.

Four times each academic year, ReadySetDesign’s program provides introductory engineering experiences for elementary and middle school girls in the Baltimore area, through half-day weekend programs on the Homewood campus. At each event, participants are given a real-world engineering design problem to solve. They work as teams to brainstorm, build, and present their prototypes to parents and mentors at the end of the three-hour event.

On Saturday, a dozen girls from Baltimore-area schools (and a few homeschool students) gathered in Levering’s Great Hall to design and construct a wind turbine that would maximize the production of energy.

First, volunteers from ReadySetDesign and APO led the students through a discussion about renewable energy in general and wind turbines in particular. Then, using materials including tongue depressors, cardboard, string, rubber bands, electrical tape, cardboard rolls, plastic cutlery, and more, the teams designed and fashioned turbine blades, connected those blades to a DC motor, and measured the voltage produced when the turbine was exposed to varying wind speeds (via an electric fan.)

“These events are important because they introduce girls to the engineering design process by mentoring them through a specific, hands-on design challenge in a positive, collaborative environment,” said Rachel Sangree, a lecturer in the Department of Civil Engineering and adviser to ReadySetDesign. “Through these design challenges, the girls not only get to practice solving challenging engineering problems as part of a team, they also get the opportunity to meet female engineering students, learn about different engineering disciplines and the types of challenges that engineers working in those disciplines currently face.”

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