OPTIONS program offers local high school females a look into Lehigh engineering

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Deciding on a major can be difficult, and with the seemingly endless number of possibilities, narrowing in on one is intimidating. To help combat this issue, the Society of Women Engineers  offers the Offering Possibilities Through Investigating Opportunities in Engineering and Science program that brings high school girls from the outer Bethlehem community to visit Lehigh for engineering tours.

OPTIONS is run by members of the Society of Women Engineers and allows high school females to get department tours and view demonstrations from different engineering disciplines. The society also coordinates the Charting Horizons and Opportunities in Careers in Engineering and Science program, which brings middle school girls from local and neighboring schools to Lehigh. According to the Society of  Women Engineers’ website, “the girls take part in a series of engineering based presentations and hands-on experiments.”

“CHOICES introduces students to the idea of engineering while OPTIONS allows students to specifically look into a specific department,” said Emily Sechrist, ’16, who planned the event.

The organization’s objective is to enable girls who are interested in engineering to come and see the different options they can have should they decide to pursue a career in engineering. Sechrist said they want the girls to see what type of job opportunities are available to them.

“Our ultimate goal is to have the same girls that come for CHOICES in middle school remain engaged and interested to return for OPTIONS in high school,” said Juliana Telles, ’15, former president of the Society of Women Engineers and current mentor of the organization.

Since the engineering field is male dominated, the society’s members try to get as many girls active in engineering as possible.

“It’s an outreach program to the community,” Sechrist said. “We are mainly trying to attract juniors and seniors in high school since they ideally know they want to study some form of engineering. For students very on the fence, it might not be as interesting, but we still welcome girls in all high school grades.”

Sechrist led the event, which took place Nov. 13. The girls first arrived on campus in the morning and had a welcoming activity that showed videos about what engineering is at large. The students were broken up into groups of four for the “marshmallow challenge.”

Each team had 20 pieces of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of yarn and one marshmallow. The girl’s task was to create the tallest freestanding structure using the limited materials at hand.

“The group whose marshmallow was supported and had the tallest structure won,” Sechrist said. “My goal was to introduce them to materials, time constraints, working as a part of a team and thinking critically to solve a problem.”

The girls then had opportunities to participate in various lab demonstrations led by engineering faculty, all of which — except for one — are women. Professors involved said they were excited about the prospect of teaching high school students.

The high school students that attended the event then had lunch with Society of Women Engineers members. Kianna Lauck, ’18, who serves as the CHOICES co-chair attended the lunch and ice cream social where she ate with a table of about six juniors and seniors in high school.

“We chatted about engineering at Lehigh, AP classes, high school and also just what they enjoy,” Lauck said. “They seemed very interested and asked some great questions about what types of engineering the Society of Women Engingeers members do and what they should expect to look forward to in college.“

The lunch gave prospective engineering students an opportunity to learn whether specific fields appeal to them.

“This event is so important because some girls may have an interest in engineering, but until they see someone in front of them that they can really talk to and relate to, it doesn’t seem like something they can be a part of,” Sechrist said.

Society of Women Engineers members are hopeful that the event encouraged girls to consider careers in engineering through exposing it to them before they get to college.

“I feel that the girls did gain a lot from the event,” Lauck said. “They were able to talk with college students that have gone through the same process they’re going through now in high school. It was easy to relate to them, and I hope they felt the same way. I’m confident that it was helpful for them to be able to come to the physical campus and get a feel for what engineering at college is like.”

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