About 50 Middle and Upper School girls were very enthusiastic participants in Poly Prep’s first Women’s Innovation Symposium in Engineering (W.I.S.E.) Sunday, March 11, on the Dyker Heights campus.
W.I.S.E. was spear-headed by Flo Turkenkopf (Chair, Science Department), members of Poly’s Science Department faculty, and Director of Diversity Javaid Khan, who all worked for six months to give the girls an opportunity to explore the field of engineering and to consider it as a possible career path. Participants were selected through an application process. The symposium was also open to students from outside Poly.
In greeting the girls in the Richard Perry Theatre, Turkenkopf said, “It is heartwarming to see how many of you are excited…. The world is in great need of your talents and creativity.” She then thanked Emily Giurleo ’13 whose work, she said, had been “invaluable to W.I.S.E.”
The symposium began with keynote speaker Dr. Katherine Ziemer, associate professor of chemical engineering at Northeastern University, where she is active in teaching and research. Dr. Ziemer also has seven years experience as a chemical engineer with DuPont.
“When I was in your shoes, I didn’t know what engineering was,” Dr. Ziemer began. She explained, “Engineering provides solutions.”
Dr. Ziemer said her women friends who are engineers study plastics, bullet proof vests, drug delivery systems, electronics, and how the body heals itself. “As engineers, we make things happen,” she said.
Studying math and science is “like weight training,” Dr. Ziemer said. “We need math and science to have the knowledge with which to create.” Engineering also includes finding “solutions for clean water and renewable energy,” she said. “And makeup, the fun stuff, too.”
Dr. Ziemer told the girls, “Our technological workforce is going away...This is a good time for you guys. Now it’s your turn, because dreams need doing. Go for it!”
In the next portion of the day, the girls were all assigned to one of seven workshops in the science building.
In each workshop, the participants were mentored by women engineers, who came to share their expertise with a new generation. Poly alumna Laura Wacker ’09, and currently a junior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), came back to Poly because “Ms T. [Turkenkopf] sent me an email and invited me. I came to inspire the students to get interested in engineering, to try it out.”
Fredrica (Freddie) Brooks is a technical manager at Alcatel-Lucent, a communications supplier of mobile, fixed, IP, and Optics technologies and services to telecommunications service providers worldwide. She helped Middle Schoolers explore the engineering process by designing, building, and testing the specifications of a tiny swing set built out of Popsicle sticks.
Jessica Johnson, with a degree in Industrial Engineering from Northwestern University, guided other Middle Schoolers who built dance pads. They had to find a way to incorporate a buzzer or flashing light that would be turned on when the dance pad was stepped on.
Cara Winter, a materials engineer at the consulting firm, Lucius Pitkin, Inc., in New York City, explained that her projects have included studying load effects on the Manhattan Bridge. In her workshop, Winter had Upper School students measure stress and strain and calculate internal pressure using full soda cans.
Munawar Ahmed led the iPad Apps workshop. Ahmed, founder of Bluprint, is a user experience consultant specializing in branding, digital strategy, user experience design, workflow streamlining, data modeling, and large-scale back-end system implementations. Her students created APPs for hairstyles and interior design.
How to make laboratory measurements of mechanical structures to understand how they are engineered to withstand external loads was the subject of the Upper School workshop taught by Kyoko Yoshida, a graduate student who works with Dr. Kristin Myers in the Columbia University Engineering Department.
The most delicious project was the “Smoothie Challenge.” The goal for juniors and seniors was to create a smoothie recipe and plan how to produce it for a mass market. Their mentor was Carol Daigle, who received her degree in chemical engineering from M.I.T. Her career in engineering began with Procter and Gamble, where she used her engineering skills to manage packaging and manufacturing operations. Daigle later joined Dow Chemical, where she developed super absorbents.
Other Upper School students were given the mission of designing and creating an LED lantern to be used by people who have no electricity. Dr. Barbara Hughey, an instructor in mechanical engineering at M.I.T., served as their mentor.
Sydney Marcus ’15, was in a group of three trying to fashion a base for their lantern. “This is the teamwork the keynote speaker was talking about,” she said. “This is fun,” Marcus added. “I’m enjoying myself immensely.”
Watching from across the lab table, Ziemer said with a smile, “They are discovering. They are engineers already!”
At lunch in Commons, Jania Walker-Anderson ’13, said it had been a good day. She now had an “open mind” about engineering.
Making an App was fun. “I found out that no little idea is dumb,” she said.
Renangie Alcantara-Polanco ’14 said the symposium was “mind-opening.” “There are so many different things you can do with engineering,” she said.
After lunch, the participants and faculty gathered in the Theatre to report on the results of their work.
Afterward, they were all invited to the gym, where representatives of colleges, universities and companies, which employ engineers, were available to speak with the girls. Among them were: Stevens Tech, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Alcatel-Lucent, Clarkson University, 29th Street Publishing, Smith College, ConEd (American Institute of Chemical Engineers), Engineers Without Borders, Alfred University, Tufts University, NYU Poly, and Microsoft. Among the representatives were Poly alums Anecia Richards '11, Tufts '15 and Stephanie LeBlanc '01, Stevens Institute of Technology '06.
For a photo gallery of the Women’s Innovation Symposium in Engineering, click here.