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Opportunities Excite Female Students

On Friday, April 13, just over 150 female eighth-graders convened at the UConn Storrs campus for a “lucky” one-day Multiply Your Options (MYO) conference spotlighting science and engineering. In a dozen rooms within the Student Union, groups of young women engaged in constructing rudimentary motors from magnets, wire and batteries; designing and assembling prototype sails to test on a raised track with fan-generated wind; electrolyzing water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen molecules using saltwater, pencils and a 9V battery – and other activities geared to introduce engineering and science concepts in a deceptively fun manner.

Most of the day’s activities involved teamwork and collaboration, and when put to the test, many creative efforts produced laughter as prototypes performed in unexpected ways. An important lesson was that even a poor performance or an unexpected outcome can offer valuable insights for engineers and scientists.

Now celebrating its 13th year, MYO is intended to help young women explore engineering and scientific principles at a time when they are just beginning to think seriously about college and career options. The program workshops are taught in a hands-on, problem solving format by practicing women scientists and engineers, many of whom are UConn alumnae and graduate students. An afternoon session involved attendees in a deductive reasoning game called “Tool Clues,” in which female role models bring five tools from work that offer hints about their occupations and the students strove to correctly deduce their careers.

MYO is an outreach initiative of the Engineering Diversity Program and is overseen by director Kevin McLaughlin. Commenting on the impact of MYO, Mr. McLaughlin said “As the nation’s competitiveness in math, science and engineering has decreased in recent years, programs such as MYO offer young women successful role models for pursuing their education in these very subject areas. Statistics compiled by the Society of Women Engineers reveal that 75 percent of girls surveyed do not plan to pursue careers in science, math or technology, and just 10 percent have considered engineering as a future career choice. This gap must be addressed, and we believe MYO is an important starting point.”

“The primary purpose of Multiply Your Options,” said Marty Wood, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Education, “is to expose young women to strong female role models who are practicing engineers, scientists and technologists – and to help them make the connection between classroom instruction and rewarding, exciting career opportunities.”

The workshops covered a dozen subjects, from the relationship between electricity and magnetism to construction of batteries using galvanic cells, how color changes indicate chemical reactions and how fluids are recycled in a closed ecosystem such as that found on the international space station. A highlight involved the demonstration of a mockup space suit brought by Hamilton Sundstrand engineers Vicky Margiott and Julie Reiss.

Students from 14 schools participated in MYO 2007, representing Ashford, Brooklyn, East Hampton, East Hartford, Ellington, Guilford, Hartford, Hebron, Manchester, Mansfield, New London, Somers, Tolland, Vernon and Union.

Among the practicing engineers who volunteered their time to plan and conduct MYO workshops were Ms. Margiott and Ms. Reiss of Hamilton Sundstrand, Elizabeth Jordan of Pratt & Whitney, Katherine Jordan and Celine McGee of General Electric, and Kimberly Ozkan-Bal of Unilever. Graduate and undergraduate student presenters from the School of Engineering included Ekta Gandhi, Colette Opsahl Ozlem Yilmaz, Rachelle Howard, Julie Mackey, Melissa Jacques and Amber Black; and from the Chemistry department were Joy Erickson and Danielle Watt.