The career path for women is UP

Group encourages interest in the field by leading students in hands-on activities

nwilson@thetribunenews.comFebruary 23, 2011 

Nine-year-old Pacheco Elementary School student Grace Packard, who wants to be an architect, eagerly participated in Wednesday’s project to build a tower of paper and tape.

She’s just the kind of youngster that Cal Poly’s Society of Women Engineers is encouraging this week as club members visit fourth-graders throughout the county to lead them in hands-on engineering activities.

“I decided that making tubes out of the paper would be the best way because that would make the tower the strongest,” Packard said. “It was really fun.”

Cal Poly’s College of Engineering enrolls 4,038 men and 803 women — and both the university and industry recruiters are hoping to see more females choose engineering as a major and as a career.

Cal Poly’s total of about 17 percent female engineering students reflects the national average of U.S. universities, according to Betty Shanahan, executive director of the Society of Women Engineers’ headquarters in Chicago.

This week, the Cal Poly engineers scheduled visits to schools in Grover Beach, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.

On Wednesday, Cal Poly biomedical engineering major Anastasia Newark divided the 35 students in Marlene Vega’s class at Pacheco into groups of five or six.

The activity required the children to work together to build the tallest free-standing tower possible in 20 minutes using 20 sheets of 8-by-11-inch paper and 10 pieces of Scotch tape.

“I want to look around and see all the cool ideas you guys have,” Newark told the class. “Like you guys just did, engineers have to work together to get things done on time and the best way they can.”

The tallest tower of the class was 53 inches. The activity resulted in several creative designs — including blocks, tubes and paper airplanes.

Spirited debates emerged on how best to accomplish the task — and some groups assigned each other duties of taping, shaping or holding their design together as members worked.

While cheerfully commenting about a Justin Bieber song that was “stuck in her head,” Pacheco student Amelia Corpuz-Carr voiced her opinions on whether to use a flat piece of paper to divide the second level of her team’s paper tower design and how best to lay the foundation.

Cal Poly engineering officials say that getting the children interested at a young age is key because that will help prepare them to take the classes they need in high school toward acceptance into a college engineering program.

“I was really happy to see so many of the girls be so assertive in their participation,” said Helene Finger, Cal Poly’s Women Engineering Program director. “I think the industry is actively seeking female engineers because diversity in the workplace leads to a diversity of ideas.”


The Society of Women Engineers recently honored five women with Cal Poly ties for excellence and leadership in their field.

The organization also handed out scholarships to 31 Cal Poly students ranging from $500 to $1,500 at an “Evening With Industry” banquet in January at the Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo.

The five winners of the Outstanding Women in Engineering and Technology awards — a group that included graduates and undergraduates — were Annie Beug, Sarah R. Chang, Laura Dearborn, Ana Hopper and Jennifer Hughes.

They were chosen using four criteria — faculty recommen-dations, demonstrated leadership, related work experience and grade-point average.

The scholarship awards were given to male or female students who actively promoted women in engineering.

The companies that provided scholarships included Amgen, Boeing, Chevron, Cisco, Deloitte, Eaton, Fluor, Mazzetti Nash Lipsey and Burch, Parker Aerospace, Raytheon and Yahoo.

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