High School Girls Race Through Engineering Workshop


July 11, 2003

Carnegie Mellon hosted a week-long hands-on "Engineering Your Future" workshop for girls ages 13-18, introducing them to chemical, mechanical, electrical and computer, civil, and materials science engineering. Attracting over 40 high school students from a half dozen Pittsburgh area schools, the activities were sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers and Carnegie Mellon's Engineering faculty, who instructed the class along with our staff and students.

The program culminated with a race featuring brightly painted miniature cars that were handmade using plastic bottles and boxes. Fueled by simple chemical reactions, the vehicles ran on a track with computer sensors and tiny gates made of straws. Although the sixteen teams were challenged to maximize their vehicle's design and navigational prowess, the spirit of the seminar wasn't about competition- the focus was on team work, as groups with creative team names such as "The Burminators" and "Yellow Submarine" cheered for one another.

Gary Fedder, Professor of ECE and Robotics, led the electrical engineering part of the lab with ECE graduate student teaching assistants Bob Grabowski, Luis Navarro-Serment, Janet Stillman, Mike Schultz, Mike Vladimer, and Sarah Bedair.

"The goal is to give the high school girls a flavor for what engineering is about, and have them consider engineering as a major in college," Fedder summarized. "This is a wonderful program for the around 45 girls involved."

Mike Reiter, Professor of ECE and CS, instructed on computer architecture, with help from students and staff, including: Scott Garriss, Andrew Klosterman, Jim Newsome, Grace Nordin, Deepti Srivastava, Yang Wang, Matthew Wright, and Avi Yaar.

"I really enjoyed interacting with the students. They were very curious about computers. Hopefully they had fun, and learned something in the process," Reiter said.

Students who completed the workshop earned certificates of achievement and SWE T-shirts.

The College of Engineering has over 110 faculty members, with over 60 in ECE (including tenure track, research track and lecturers). According to its website, the Society of Women Engineers "stimulates women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expands the image of the engineering profession as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and demonstrates the value of diversity."

Studies by the Information Technology Association of America show that the number of women in the technical work force dropped from 41 percent in 1996 down to 34.9 percent in 2002. Additionally, although they compose about 47 percent of the U.S. work force, women earned only 22 percent of engineering and computer science undergraduate degrees.

Related People:

Gary Fedder