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SWE growth allows for more outreach

Mizzou SWE members work with middle school students to introduce them to engineering, and encourage them to consider it as an educational path by sharing fun activities with them in their classrooms.

The University of Missouri Society of Women Engineers is reaching out in both new and old ways. The MU chapter, that seeks to support women in achieving success in the field of engineering and leadership, has experienced rapid membership growth in the past few years. With outreach programs for younger girls in the community, national and regional conferences, social events with alumni and professionals, and support and friendship from a close-knit group of peers, SWE’s growth is assisting more and more individual successes each year.

“Our goal for this year is to continue and expand our outreach to students of all ages,” Shannon Felker, senior civil engineering student and SWE president, said.

Over the past year, Mizzou SWE has ramped up some of their long time events including Girl Scout Day, middle-school engineering project presentations and E-Week Green Tea with professors and faculty.

Heather Carrier, sophomore civil engineer and co-chair of the middle school outreach program, works to organize the monthly SWE presentations in middle and elementary school science classes.

“We always start by asking ‘Does anyone know what engineering is?’ And the truth is, a lot of young kids don’t. One student thought they worked on trains,” Carrier said.

Three members go to two fifth-grade and five middle school classes in Boonville and Harrisburg each month with different activities that represent the engineering sequences. This month they are making gingerbread houses for civil engineering.

Because of their increased membership, the group has been able to do monthly presentations since last year.

Another youth outreach activity is the annual Girl Scout Day. On Feb. 12, SWE will host the event for Columbia troops. Groups of elementary and middle school Girl Scouts will attend different presentations in Lafferre Hall to learn about various engineering fields. For example, one of the past activities used no bake cookies to explain aggregates and binders of asphalt. Another let attendees swab the inside of their mouths, place the swabs in a mixture (water, alcohol and dishwashing soap), and see the bacteria grow.

“We want to inspire girls to pursue engineering. When you are in middle school you are trying to decide what’s interesting and cool and we want to show younger girls that it’s okay to like math and science,” Felker said.

There are also new activities for group members like the mentor program. Older members are paired with newer members of similar interests to encourage friendship and guidance with the college experience.

“We had some challenges with this program this semester and we hope to make it better in the future,” Felker said.

The group’s efforts and growth are not going unnoticed. On Nov. 4-6, the chapter won the Silver Level Outstanding Collegiate Section Award at the SWE 2010 national conference. Additionally, past president and current region collegiate representative Katie Tepper won an Outstanding Collegiate Member Award.

“It’s nice to be recognized as an organization, it shows that we really are doing good things,” Felker said.

“The best part is getting to know the other girls and pursue opportunities together,” Carrier said.