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Engineers inspire next generation of students

Prin Mayowa

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Chico State engineering students fly a miniature helicopter with children participating in Imagineer Day. Photo credit: Alex Boesch


What do creating LED lights, conducting simulations of water disbursement and making ice cream have in common?

The projects can all be accomplished by grade-school children.

On Saturday morning, children ages 5-12 woke up early to be engineers for a day on Imagineer Day, an event put on by Chico State’s Society of Women Engineers.

Many boys and girls sat in Langdon Hall waiting for the events to start.

One large group of energetic third and fourth grade girls were ready to start the day. They amused each other with tales of last year’s event.

As the day commenced Michelle Rodriguez, the Society of Women Engineers’ outgoing president, a senior computer engineering and electrical engineering double major, asked the students if they were excited.

“Yeah!” the children screamed in unison.

They were then unleashed upon the world of engineering activities.

Rodriguez has worked hard to make Imagineer Day become an annual event.

“The Society of Women Engineers chapter here died for a couple of years,” she said. “2011 was our first Imagineer Day. We held one last year, and this is our second annual.”

Though the event is mostly for the children, the staff were caught up in the excitement of the day as well.

As children stood in a row, donning protective eye wear and holding their personally-crafted bottle rockets, staff walked by excitedly and watched the spectacle as the smell of vinegar filled the air.

During the ice cream activity, children ages 4-8 shook bags with dedication and when they were done, they got to eat the fruit of their labor.

The day wasn’t all about bottle rockets and egg drops, though. These kids were actually learning.

In fact, Rodriguez’s favorite part of the day was during the closing ceremony, when the children were given diplomas that read “Congratulations, you’re an Imagineer,” she said.

“I ask them questions about what they learned that day,” she said. “You should see them — they raise their hands and talk like experts. Things like that are what makes me want to keep doing this. They really enjoy it.”

While boys were invited to be a part of Saturday’s activities, the goal of the event was to get young girls interested in engineering.

Young girls swarmed Langdon Hall in groups, talking about how much fun they had.

Kathy Erickson and Jenny Cooper, parents and Girl Scout troop leaders, were excited to be a part of the program.

“They really look forward to it all year,” Cooper said. “We need more female engineers, and these women serve as role models to our girls.”

Girl Scouts that attended received unexpected badges for participating in the event, she said. They just come just for the fun of it.

“Our girls came last year and they had a blast,” Erickson said.

Male engineering students were happy to help with the event as well.

Nelson Wheelehan, a senior mechanical engineering major, volunteered at the LED lab. He taught students about the light-emitting diodes, circuits and basic concepts of electricity.

Though Wheelehan was never a part of any program like this as a child, he saw this as a great opportunity to get children interested in engineering.

“SWE’s event was a great opportunity for young people around Chico to be exposed to science in a fun and positive environment,” Wheelehan said. “If we have inspired just a few of these kids to be inquisitive about science, I would consider this event a success.”

At the end of the LED lab session, Wheelehan and his group asked the kids in the room who wanted to be engineers when they got older.

Almost every hand in the room went straight up.

Prin Mayowa can be reached at [email protected] or @PrinSupreme on Twitter.

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Engineers inspire next generation of students