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Engineering outreach project featured on Engineering.com

posted Feb 9, 2014, 6:15 AM by Rose Almond   [ updated Feb 9, 2014, 6:15 AM ]

An example rover for the younger kids.
This coming March marks Canada’s National Engineering Month (NEM). The goal is to teach Canadian youth about the rewards and opportunities associated with an engineering career.

The drive to get girls interested in engineering has been a valiant, ongoing effort fought by various groups including Universities, Women in Engineering and GoldieBlox. Now Rose-Marie Almond (Rose Almond Design) and National Engineering Month are providing support for Girl Guides of Canada (similar to the Girl Scouts in the US) in trying to entice young girls to join a STEM profession with their Mission to Mars program.

“The STEM component in Guides varies by the age group. I work with Brownies (age 7-8). We work with number games and even the odd science experiment. But for engineering it was disappointing. The only program was to build a ‘tall structure’. That doesn’t even include all the range of engineering disciplines,” said Almond.

She adds that “most guiders are not in STEM professions. They often get uncomfortable when it comes to coming up with STEM programming ideas. That is how we started the instant meeting. Leaders just have to follow the script and get the materials. Some groups will even get a volunteer from the engineering community!”

The Mission to Mars program starts with the premise of supporting a fictional colony on Mars. The activities vary by skill level based on the age group of the troupe. The first activity for the youngest group asks ‘how do we get there?’ “It has some information on the science of Mars, its environment, how to get there, and even the ISS,” said Almond.

“For the older kids, we use information from the Mars One project and try and build the colony. We want them to do industrial, civil, and system engineering designs to see for instance where the astronauts sleep compared to where they work. We want to show them that what engineers do matters to society- engineers can change the world! I think this is the main reason for wanting to go into engineering.”

The main activity involves building a sustainable Mars rover. A rover is what would be needed to explore Mars, transport supplies, pick up test samples, and build the colony. “For Sparks (age 5-6) the rover would be simple and balloon powered. For brownies and guides (age 9-11) they will use rubber bands. This will allow them to learn about potential and kinetic energy. For the Pathfinders (age 12-14) and Rangers (age 15-17) we want it more complicated. We will add the surface of mars, obstacles, and solar panels!” explained Almond.

The older kids will not be coddled though, “the younger ones will be given a lot of guidance but as they get older we will allow them more independence. Brownies will get a demonstration, Guides and above, will independently follow the instruction sheet. The older kids might need help with the gear ratios from our engineer volunteers but we want them to try for themselves first.”

Rose Almond, the brains behind the Mission to Mars Girl Guides NEM program

Almond believes that for young girls, “engineering is not something that is covered in detail, and there are strange social behaviours about what girls are encouraged to play with as kids. They don’t seem to get the same exposure to STEM activities. Although, I also don’t think that this is limited to girls, we are struggling to get all youth involved, possibly because there are also not any role models in the current media. Just that guy from Big Bang, and he isn’t a true to life stereotype.”

She saw the problem was getting bigger and it seemed that no one was doing anything to change it. No one was preparing our youth for STEM. “I honestly got kind of annoyed,” said Almond. “People in my engineering forums were identifying what is wrong. However, when you ask them to do something about it no one was stepping up. So I said okay I can do it through my involvement in Girl Guides. It snowballed kind of quickly after that.”

Her quest to bring STEM to Guides first brought her to the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET). As a member since 2007, and recipient of the IET’s ‘Women in Engineering’ scholarship, she knew she could find a helping hand. “I started out posting on the IET Toronto (Canada) discussion board and that is how I got in touch with them for help getting flyers and program ideas. They have also been a great help with budgeting and initial setup.”

On her own Engineering inspiration, Almond notes that “I have had some awesome teachers in schools. That is how I went into design technology and then engineering. They encouraged me. Thanks to their support, I won competitions and got scholarships. No one in my family is technically oriented professionally. So I have my teachers to thank.”

The program still needs volunteers, so check them out.

Written by Shawn Wasserman, see the original at: http://www.engineering.com/Education/EducationArticles/ArticleID/7057/Girl-Guides-to-Promote-STEM-Education.aspx