BME and Emory undergrads are working with CEISMC to give young students in metro Atlanta more access to engineering experiences before college.
Georgia Tech and Emory University undergraduates are working to expand engineering exposure to girls in metro Atlanta high schools before college. Their goal is to help young women see the creativity and impact of engineering and get them excited about the field.
Biomedical engineering students Emily Yan and Zakir Ahmedin are drawing from their own experience as classmates in a DeKalb County public high school who came to Georgia Tech to study engineering.
“I found it difficult to transition to Georgia Tech with no engineering experience beforehand,” said Yan, who’s now in her third year. “It can be intimidating for young girls to go into engineering when they don’t know a lot about it.”
As one of the BMED 1000 Teaching Assistants, Yan was able to talk to many first-year students in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering who shared a similar experience. The head instructor for the course, Lecturer Todd Fernandez, encouraged her and provided guidance to create a project that would address this.
Yan, Ahmedin, and Emory international relations and human health student Rachel Kroger plan to close that gap, and they’ve secured a $10,000 Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund grant from the U.S. Department of State to help.
In the fall, they will partner with Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC) to bring high-school-age women to campus for four weekends of seminars and lectures with Georgia Tech faculty. The instruction will cover topics in mechanical, computer, and biomedical engineering, with other sessions on career development and a month-long engineering project.
They’re calling the program EDGE: Educational Development for Girls in Engineering.
“It’s exciting that Georgia Tech undergraduates are so committed to sharing their passion for engineering with their younger peers,” said Dr. Lizanne DeStefano, executive director of CEISMC. “We look forward to partnering with them on this exciting program.”
In developing the workshop approach, the team talked to DeKalb County Schools administrators. Yan said the conversation helped her realize that offering students more creativity and design-centered experience would be valuable. Often, she said, the engineering curriculum in Georgia public high schools is technical and based on repetition of previous engineering projects and problems instead of giving students a chance to develop their own solutions.
Ahmedin recalled his own experience taking an engineering class offered at his high school: “We were developing fundamental skills, like learning 2D drawing with AutoCAD, but there was no creativity or design in the process — unlike Georgia Tech classes.”
He said exposure to engineering is vital for inspiring prospective students.
“The biggest issue is that people don’t pursue engineering because they don’t know what it really is. Others might have a negative experience because they’re not adequately prepared for an engineering program or don’t have previous exposure to the field.”
In particular, the EDGE program will focus on young women from historically underrepresented backgrounds, who have traditionally had fewer opportunities to explore engineering and other STEM-oriented fields. The group said they hope to remove those barriers through the EDGE program and help students find female mentors in engineering to build a community of resources and support.
Yan and Kroger spent the summer in South Korea two years ago as part of the State Department’s National Security Language Initiative for Youth program. The grant they received for EDGE comes from a fund specifically for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.
Yan said spending the summer abroad helped them grow as more resilient leaders and gave them confidence to start EDGE. She hopes the two weekends of instruction will give young women the same boost in confidence.
“We chose to target high school freshman-to-junior-year girls because this is the time when they’re thinking about what they want to do in the future,” Yan said. “This program is a vehicle for them to see the opportunities in engineering and a way to meet mentors and students who have similar experiences.”
Ahmedin echoed that hope for personal development.
“I hope the girls will find positive role models they can look up to and instill within themselves that they can set out to do anything they want, whether that be an engineering or any other career path they chose.”