“SWE” Mentor Kids on Brownie Day

On Saturday, March 19, a group of members of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) spent their day mentoring a group of eager Girl Scouts, most of whom were juniors or cadets. The mission, which the outreach division of SWE organizes twice a year—but as Brownie Day in the fall—aims to engage young female students in science, technology, engineering, and math, and particularly in engineering, a field in which girls are particularly underrepresented.
The event, which spanned a few Randolph classrooms, was saturated with learning and discovery. Upon arrival, some girls could be seen throwing putty against the walls, excitedly yelling out, “boing!” and observing its behavior, while others constructed bridges across desks out of spaghetti, and a larger group partook of a lesson and activity aimed at illustrating the work of environmental engineers in cleaning up oil spills.
The event also incorporated the Marshmallow Challenge, a teambuilding exercise that requires students to work quickly and efficiently to create a structurally sound spaghetti tower that can support the weight of a marshmallow at its peak. One team found a loophole in the way SWE facilitators expressed the rules this time around, taking a small bit of marshmallow and adhering it to the top. The girls adamantly explained that they did have marshmallow on the top, taking advantage of the word marshmallow, which remains the same in its plural form. One of the mothers of the girls joked that the event was, “training to be lawyers and engineers,” a testament to the lighthearted atmosphere of the day.
Meanwhile, in the oil spill activity room, outreach co-chair Mary Carome taught students about major recent oil spills while explaining why cleanup techniques are used. “The soap…here’s a big word—emulsifies—breaks down the oil,” she conveyed to the students with engaging inflection. She asked the Girl Scouts what worked best in the activity, an inquiry which fostered critical thinking and reflection amidst a backdrop of fun. When the girls were asked whether they preferred an earlier flubber activity or the oil spill, wherein they were tasked with cleaning vegetable oil out of a tank of water using Dawn dish soap, there was a clear consensus for environmental/biological systems engineering-inspired contaminated water remediation.
During the event wrap-up, students sat in a larger Randolph classrooms, the backs of their vests visible. Many already had patches like, “S.T.E.M.,” “Aviation Fun,” and “Community Service” demonstrated commitment to learning about engineering and serving their community. Carome asked the students about their favorite parts of the event, and whether it had helped them to think differently about engineering or about engineers in their family.
Carome reported that several of the SWE volunteers were also Girl Scouts in their earlier years. She also mentioned that she herself was a Girl Scout for a few years, and had also interacted with youth as a swim coach and a member of the Hypatia outreach committee. She reflected that science and technology activities weren’t always as available for girls, and that there is a “trend now to get more women in engineering—now getting them young is important.” According to Carome, the current trajectory is a positive one, and she hopes to maintain and expand SWE’s relationship with local Girl Scouts in coming semesters.