Students in the Rock Island Network recently got a chance to try out some fun building challenges while developing their engineering skills at an annual visit from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Women’s Initiative. The Rock Island Network first established a partnership with the MIT Women’s Initiative in 2009, headed up by Chief Dr. Karen Saffold.
The mission of the Women’s Initiative is to get more girls interested in pursuing careers in the fields of engineering and computer science, and to break down common stereotypes about engineering. In early January two female engineering students from MIT, Vinnie Hung and Ruby Fu, visited the Rock Island Network to give workshops to middle and high school students. Vinnie and Ruby led discussions of various fields of engineering, such as civil, environmental, and electrical, and emphasized throughout that engineering was really about finding creative solutions to problems. The MIT students also conducted hands-on activities that demonstrated basic engineering concepts in a fun way.
Between 25 and 30 students attended the workshops each day. The seminars included activities such as building the tallest possible structure out of spaghetti and gumdrops, constructing a weight-bearing boat out of clay, and building and designing a case that could protect an egg as it was dropped from a certain height. The various challenges allowed the female students to cultivate their problem-solving skills and demonstrate their inventiveness, all while building confidence and having a great time.
Enija, a fourth grader at Gillespie Tech, attended all three days of the MIT Women’s Initiative event this year. She said of her experience, “The teachers were a lot of fun and I learned a lot. The different activities we did were the best part of the program. My favorite activity was making a boat out of clay. My team won the contest because our boat floated the longest.”
MIT engineer Vinnie Hung said of visiting the Rock Island Network, “It was a great experience working with students from different age groups. I think that girls who participated that had never considered engineering as a career before had a much better sense of it after this seminar. I’m glad that they got a good experience out of it.”
Female students, CPS principals, and parents from the following schools participated in the MIT Women’s Initiative workshops: Kellogg Elementary, Owen Scholastic Academy, Gillespie Tech, Poe Elementary Classical School, Mount Greenwood Elementary, South Loop Elementary, Morgan Park High School, Lavizzo Elementary, and Lindblom Math and Science Academy High School.
The MIT Women’s Initiative is scheduled to return to Chicago next January to lead another series of workshops.