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Virtual Career Day for Girls Explores Opportunities in STEM

More than 100 middle school and high school girls took part in the virtual event on February 27

Assistant Dean Ellen Worsdall and Northwestern SWE members hosted 111 girls for the virtual Career Day for Girls.Assistant Dean Ellen Worsdall and Northwestern SWE members hosted 111 girls for the virtual Career Day for Girls.

On Saturday, February 27, 111 Chicago-area middle school and high school girls took part in virtual design activities and panels during Northwestern University’s 50th annual Career Day for Girls.

The career development and educational workshop, held each year as part of National Engineers Week, encourages young women to consider engineering in their education and career choices. “Engineering 4 Social Good” was the theme for this year’s workshop, sponsored by Northwestern Engineering’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

The event featured an interactive design activity to show how a STEM career presents opportunities to work on important issues facing society, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Students worked in teams to plan a route for vaccine distribution across the US that covered the fewest number of miles, tracking their visited states and milage in an Excel worksheet. The activity taught problem solving skills and the importance of communication and teamwork.

“We wanted to tear down the misconception that engineers work alone with their calculators in their faces all the time,” said Yaritza Chavez, SWE outreach director and a junior studying mechanical engineering. “Even in this virtual format, we wanted the students to meet new people, work together, and help each other solve a problem facing all of us today.”

Chanda Davis (’03), senior manager and senior scientist at Procter & Gamble, delivered the event’s keynote speech. Davis, who received her degree in mechanical engineering, spoke about how engineers are involved in more than just the spectacular feats seen in the media like rocket ships or driverless cars. They are also the “unseen superheroes” behind many products and services people interact with daily. Also, she reminded students they may not know their career path yet, but they were all capable of pursuing careers in a STEM field and making a difference.

“The world of engineering is vast and the ways in which engineers can impact society are limitless,” Davis said. “We are the inventors of what’s to come in our world. We create where things did not exist. We identify solutions where challenges and peril reside. It is important to sit in that truth and charge forward to seize the day and make a difference.”

GradSWE President Julia Downing spoke to junior high students about her experience as a PhD student in the lab of Mark Hersam, Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. Downing, who studies nanomaterials, explained how she was introduced to the field, demonstrated the equipment in her lab, and addressed challenges in her research.

The virtual format also allowed for visits with Northwestern Engineering alumni. Fourteen alumnae from across the country participated in a series of panels with high school students. They discussed the opportunities available in different engineering fields, and offered advice on how to navigate the decision-making process of choosing a major at a university.

While the pandemic kept the group from convening in person, Chavez commended the SWE community for overcoming the challenge of the format.

“The way my peers in SWE devoted their time and energy to make this event a success is truly inspiring,” Chavez said. “This event shows students the possibilities available to them. More importantly, we’re building community — a community where we support and uplift one another in all of our endeavors.”

Career Day for Girls has been held annually since 1970 when only 4 percent of Northwestern Engineering students were women. Today, approximately one third of engineering undergraduate students identify as women.