While the number of women in engineering occupations has continued to grow over the last four decades, women still only represent about 15% of the engineering workforce, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Students from the Geo-Institute Graduate Student Organization at the NC State University (G-I GSO) and Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) are hoping to increase that number by inspiring young girls through the Girls in Science Summer Camp, which was held on July 12 at Walnut Creek Wetland Park in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Four CCEE Ph.D. students — Ana Paula Bona, Jessi Thangjitham, Lina Espinosa and Nancy Ingabire Abayo — and undergraduate student Natalie Hackman set up fun and engaging activities related to civil, construction and environmental engineering to give campers a taste of all that the fields have to offer.
As part of the camp, the girls were tasked with building the strongest bridge at the lowest cost using pasta and marshmallows. They also put together a world map puzzle divided into plate boundaries to learn about plate tectonics, where earthquakes occur and what causes earthquakes. The campers were shown how earthquakes could cause liquefaction (“a process where sand will flow like soup”) on the foundation of structures like the bridges they had just built.
Thangjitham, whose research focuses on structural engineering and mechanics, said the camp focuses on enhancing the experience of girls interested in science, specifically targeting low-income families.
“Many girls are interested in science but have not had many opportunities to be exposed to engineering,” she said. “Our goal is to introduce these topics to the campers in a fun and exciting way to inspire them to careers in engineering. We spend time connecting with the campers by telling our stories about pursuing engineering. In this way, we show a representation of females in engineering and encourage the idea that they can become engineers, too!”