Engineering Career Day Challenges Young Women

EVANSTON, Ill. - Future engineers will build a mini-rollercoaster and test it with a marble. A popular lecturer will lead a team of chemists in creating explosions. Tellabs' chief information officer will challenge young women to become engineers. A spinning bicycle wheel will defy gravity and not fall. A materials scientist will explain the inner workings of a fuel cell.

All this and more will be featured at Northwestern University's 31st annual career workshop, titled "Engineering: Your Pathway to Success," designed to encourage high school and junior high school girls to consider engineering in their education and career choices. More than 200 young women attend each year.

The workshop, sponsored by Northwestern's Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the University's chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), will be held Saturday, Feb. 23, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Technological Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston. The event is the oldest annual outreach program in the Chicago area for young women thinking of becoming engineers.

"Career Day offers participants an excellent opportunity to experience some of engineering's excitement by meeting a diverse group of female engineering undergraduates, alumnae and faculty," said Ellen Worsdall, assistant dean of the McCormick School. "This one-day event has the potential to make a real difference in the lives of these young women. Past participants have told us how amazed they were to learn of the variety of careers available to someone with an engineering degree."

Catherine Kozik, chief information officer and senior vice president of global information services for Tellabs, will deliver the keynote address at 9:15 a.m. She will encourage her young audience to take on the challenges of an engineering career by discussing what it takes to be an engineer, what opportunities are available and why her own career has been rewarding.

An engineering design competition, laboratory tours, hands-on experiments, a goal-setting workshop focusing on different engineering majors, and separate panel discussions for students and parents will follow Kozik's talk. Throughout the day, girls will have an opportunity to meet current women engineering students, women faculty and alumnae.

Back by popular demand are chemistry and physics demonstrations, emphasizing the importance of these fields to the study of engineering. Eberhard Zwergel, a senior lecturer in chemistry who is popular with undergraduates, will lead a team of chemists in creating explosions, causing chemical color changes, forming gases and conducting chemiluminescent experiments in a fast-moving show demonstrating the wonders of chemistry. In a separate presentation, physicists will demonstrate a series of phenomena which, while they seem magical, such as the gravity-defying bicycle wheel, are only obeying the natural laws of physics.

In the design competition, held immediately after the keynote address, participants will use wire hangers, rubber bands, spoons, popsicle sticks and paper clips to create a device that flings a newspaper accurately and with good distance. Each team will test its design by launching a newspaper (represented by a sponge) toward a hula hoop on the floor.

Other activities include making two different types of polymers and comparing their properties, designing a "people mover" system for Northwestern's campus, learning the science behind computer simulations, mixing concrete and then testing its strength, and watching mechanical engineering students build an experimental car.

Twenty-nine percent of the undergraduates at McCormick are female, well above the national average of 20 percent. And the students stay to graduate: The class of 2001 had a retention rate of close to 95 percent for female engineers.

Career Day has been held at Northwestern annually since 1970, when only 4 percent of the students in the McCormick School were women. Today, nearly one-third of McCormick students are women, putting it at the head of the Big Ten's engineering schools and among the nation's leaders in the percentage of women it enrolls. McCormick also has one of the highest percentages of women faculty members among major engineering schools.

A complete schedule of the day's activities is available on the Web site of the Northwestern Chapter of SWE: http://msgroups.tech.northwestern.edu/swe/

The program, held in conjunction with National Engineers Week (Feb. 17-23), is open to all young women and their parents and teachers. Lunch and a t-shirt are included in the registration fee of $5 per participant. For more information or to register, contact Ellen Worsdall at (847) 491-5173 or e-worsdall@northwestern.edu.