The SWE Get Science, Engineering and Technology or “GetSET” program was started in 1992 and introduces high school girls from underrepresented groups to STEM careers. In this four-year program, the girls spend a week each summer at a university, learning through a variety of engineering and science workshops, competitions, and tours. The program is staffed by volunteers, and I’ve had a lot of fun mentoring with this program.

The first workshop I helped teach in this program was an introduction to simple circuits and programming Arduinos. The students were taught to read circuit diagrams, breadboard the components, and control the components via short programs in C. They were then given free reign to design their own projects. Some opted for more complex LED animations. My favorites were the musically inclined teams who decided to translate the sheet music of The Imperial March from Star Wars and the theme music to Super Mario Bros. to frequencies and encoded that for playback via a little Piezo speaker.

The Web Page Design Workshop led the students through building their first webpages using a graphical IDE. After the tutorial, they were given the opportunity to design and create a page of their own. As I went around answering their questions, I took every opportunity to say “Let me show you how you can do this in code!” Half an hour later, the girls were teaching each other these coding tricks, saying “Oh, that’s easy, let me show you how I did it.” Success! Not only were they internalizing the idea that they could write the code themselves, but that it was easy and something worth being excited about. Them teaching each other was an unexpected bonus for me.

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In the Marble Mover Competition, the students were tasked with designing and building the fastest robot that could move ten marbles forward six inches, up six inches, and into a hole in a box. I helped them refine their ideas, iterate through designs, troubleshoot electrical problems, and generally encouraged them as needed. It was great seeing the despair in some eyes turn into excitement when they realized that their ideas were actually good and just needed a little bit of refinement to work. I saw a variety of creative designs, including multiple backup designs, and based on the reviews, they all had a great time.  Here are some of the groups with their completed projects.

Beyond the direct teaching and mentoring, I did two career panel sessions. I was in a similar program when I was their age and wanted to make sure that they could see that a path does exist between where they are and where I am as an engineer, and that it is indeed a live option. Choosing this path was one of the best decisions that I have ever made and gives me the freedom to pursue my other interests as well. The other panelists had a variety of backgrounds, interests, and reasons for choosing their careers, which I think was good for the students to see. We respectfully disagreed on a variety of topics because we focus on different skills and roles within organizations but there is room for all of us, both specialists and generalists.

One of the students said a teacher had told her that she shouldn’t be an engineer because she didn’t have the personality or mannerisms of a stereotypical male engineer. I told her that the ways in which we stand out can be our strengths, and to find ways to make use of her talents. This advice apparently struck a chord with some of the other students and made its way into a graduation speech.  I’m very happy they invited me to attend and I’m very proud of them.

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Here’s the card they sent me after last year’s program.  I’m looking forward to seeing their progress when the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors return this summer.

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