Girls, parents learn skills to become engineers
By Mark Saal - Standard Examiner Columnist
OGDEN — How hard could it be to pick up one measly little paper clip?
That all depends on what you’re using to lift it. If you happen to be employing a crane, it’s not so easy. And furthermore, if you have to design and build that crane yourself? Well now, it just got downright challenging.
Welcome to the sixth annual Parent-Daughter Engineering Day at Weber State University.
The yearly event offers girls in grades 6 through 9 hands-on engineering experience as they learn about career opportunities and solve fun engineering problems. Among other things, the students build a hovercraft out of a balloon and compact disc, as well as a small hydraulic crane out of plastic drinking straws, pipe cleaners a meter of masking tape, a magnet, two syringes and tubing.
“What we’re doing is encouraging problem-solving engineering in families,” said Dana Dellinger, outreach coordinator for the College of Applied Science and Technology at WSU. “We want these girls to see themselves as engineers.”
Each year, the college brings in Celeste Baine, a biomedical engineer and founder of Engineering Education Service Center, an engineering education company in Springfield, Ore. Since 2002, Baine has been running these Parent-Daughter Engineering Days all over the country.
“It’s been so wonderful,” she says. “This is the best thing I’ve ever done. … I have a dream job.”
Shanoah Murray, left, works on building a paper tower with her mother, Sharonda Murray, during Parent-Daughter Engineering Day at Weber State University on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. Girls from 6th-9th grade spent the day doing experiments and learning about careers in engineering.
Most years the event sells out; 2014 was no exception. The Parent-Daughter Engineering Day has become so popular that the college now offers two sessions — one on Friday night and one on Saturday morning. Each session involves 40 parent-daughter teams from all over northern Utah.
On Saturday morning, shortly after the balloon hovercraft project is completed, Baine introduces their next challenge — a hydraulic crane that can lift a paper clip four inches off the table.
“There’s more than one right answer to this one, too,” Baine explains. “Lots and lots of right answers. In fact, there are no wrong answers today.”
That’s an important concept the workshop tries to get across. Dellinger says they want to encourage “engineer thinking,” which is “to keep trying, even when you make mistakes.”
For each project, the girls are given a kit with simple household supplies — and minimal instructions. This is intentional; workshop leaders want the girls to engineer solutions to the problems on their own.
“We want them to recognize that engineering helps people,” Dellinger said. “Engineers problem-solve to create things and do stuff. It’s a powerful concept to get.”
Abigail Christiansen, left, works on building a paper tower with her mother, Hannah Christiansen, during Parent-Daughter Engineering Day at Weber State University on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. Girls from 6th-9th grade spent the day doing experiments and learning about careers in engineering.
Shanoah Murray, a student at West Point Junior High School, admits she was a bit thrown by the lack of instructions for the projects.
“I like following instructions,” she said. “It’s frustrating when there are no instructions.”
Her mother, Sharonda Murray, of West Point, also thought the projects would be more “instructional.” But when she realized the method in the workshop’s madness, Murray was fully on board.
“I really like the way they’re doing this,” she said.
Girls from around Northern Utah wait anxiously to see if their paper towers will stay standing during Parent-Daughter Engineering Day at Weber State University on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014. Participants and their parents took part in several engineering challenges including a competition to see who could build the tallest free standing tower out of a single sheet of paper.
Murray says she saw an ad for the event in the newspaper, and quickly signed up.
“I’d like for her to experience as much as she can, so she can make an educated choice,” Murray said of her daughter.
Murray also likes the mother-daughter time the workshop affords.
“This gives us the opportunity to learn about both engineering and one another,” she said.
Natalie Haerter, a junior high school student from Park City, came up with a fairly impressive hydraulic crane. She said she’d once built a similar crane — albeit not a hydraulic one — in a class at school.
Dozens of 11-15 year old girls from around Northern Utah spent the day at Weber
State University for Parent-Daughter Engineering Day on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014.
“I just tried to remember the mistakes I made on that one, and not make them again,” she said.
Natalie’s father, Chris Haerter, was educated as an engineer. He and his daughter participate in workshops like this whenever they can, and he likes the idea of challenging his daughter to use her problem-solving skills.
“I like it whenever we do cool stuff that makes you think,” he said.
Baine, who teaches this program about a dozen times a year around the country, says Utah is a unique place.
“Utah is far different from the rest of the country,” she said. “I’ve done this workshop all over the country, and Utah parents are way more supportive.”
Also here in Utah, Baine says the girls tend to be more focused, and more fathers get involved.
“It was marketed as a mother-daughter workshop,” she said. “That’s what it was supposed to be. But here we get a lot of fathers who want to be involved with their daughters.”
Baine dreams of the day when we have “women designing things for women.”
“Girls need to realize they would make great engineers,” she said.
Baine says it’s especially rewarding when a young girl comes up to her after a workshop and says, “I want to be an engineer now.” But equally rewarding?
“Moms come up to me afterward and say, ‘Do you think it’s too late for me to be an engineer?’ ” she said.
Cassandra Olson, with the microphone, chats with girls about her experience in
Weber State University's engineering department during Parent-Daughter Engineering Day at WSU on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014.
Dozens of 11-15 year old girls from around Northern Utah spent the day at
Weber State University for Parent-Daughter Engineering Day on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014.
Tiffany Eberton and her father Eli Eberton of Brigham City design a model for
their paper tower during a competition at Parent-Daughter Engineering Day at Weber State University on Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014.
Celeste Baine (right), of Springfield, Ore., conducts the sixth annual Parent-Daughter
Engineering Day on Saturday, Nov. 15, at Weber State University in Ogden.
Photos: Benjamin Zack and Mark Saal