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Saturdays = science for girls

Engineering faculty aims to show young women the joys of science

Ariane, one of the Grade 7-8 participants in the Girls’ Science and Engineering Saturdays program, exhibits her delight with the day's activities. (Photo courtesy of Engineering outreach)

U of T is helping to close the “girl” gap in engineering science through an innovative program that inspires girls in Grades 5 to 12 through hands-on, discovery-based science and engineering activities.

The Girls’ Science and Engineering Saturdays program was created to encourage and inspire girls to explore their interests in science, engineering and technology in a comfortable, confidence-inspiring, all-female environment.  The program is offered at the St. George campus of the University of Toronto in the fall and again in the spring.    
“I think this program is important in educating the next generation of engineers,” said Darlee Gerrard, engineering outreach office co-ordinator.“This kind of program to engage young female students who are interested in science engineering and technology and to present engineering as an interesting, viable option, is important. The goal is to demystify it and ensure it’s not intimidating.”

 The fall program consists of four sessions. Each has instructors who are female undergraduate or graduate students in science, engineering or technology-focused subjects to lead and mentor.  

“We set different program themes and within those themes, the instructors will build activities and experiments,” said Gerrard.  “We also consider the Ontario curriculum when we produce the program. We want to make sure we were covering new things this year. We don’t repeat things for any grade level. Having instructors develop the curriculum helps to keep it fresh.”  

Participants are split up by grade in order to offer age-appropriate and grade-specific activities.

The program offers the girls a new and exciting theme each week. Sessions for each grade level focus on disciplines relevant to the specific experience and expertise of the program instructors. Students are encouraged to explore the related disciplines not covered in their individual classes in subsequent programs and to ask our instructors about how they can learn more.  This fall’s themes are:  Engineering Design with Humans in Mind; How That Works; Radical Research and Super Science Mysteries;  Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Engineers Change the World.

“They did a mock surgery in one class and they built solar cars using everyday materials in another and tested them,” said Gerrard.

Students get exposed to the design process and explore the ways in which engineering affects everyday life and in turn, how our lives influence engineering design. The girls also investigate technological developments through time and get a chance to dive into cutting edge research and exciting new developments. In the final week, the girls must think critically, communicate and problem solve to explore important global issues while discussing the responsibilities of engineers and scientists.  

“We have different guest speakers throughout the course of the program, and in the last week the girls are the guests so they work on an action project in each class,“ said Gerrard.  “Some of them work on a poster to educate the public on a particular issue and thinking about how the small things contribute to a global change.”

For more information visit the Girls Science & Engineering Saturdays website.

November 15, 2011