2022 2022: Society of Women Engineers partners with Acushnet Middle School
Society of Women Engineers partners with Acushnet Middle School

Society of Women Engineers introduces middle-grade students to the field of engineering and STEM career options.

Society of Women Engineers
Society of Women Engineers e-board members practice building catapults in preparation for outreach at Acushnet Middle School. Pictured left to right: Jillian Wilson, Rebecca Rodrigues, Victoria Silva, Alexa Van Voorhis (Photo courtesy of A. Van Voorhis).

The College of Engineering's Society of Women Engineers, an academic club focused on empowering women in engineering and promoting success in their careers, recently hosted an engineering exploration event developed to expose fifth- to eighth-grade students to the engineering design process and provide them with an outlook on work-related opportunities within the STEM fields.

SWE volunteers guided students in building a catapult that integrated physics and the design process. Students were grouped into teams where they were encouraged to brainstorm, design, and improve the catapults’ standard design. The event culminated with a competition in which teams competed for prizes to see who designed the catapult that can launch the furthest.

"The catapult building activity provided an opportunity to introduce SWE's Outreach efforts to schools in Acushnet,” said Rachael Knapp, SWE leadership coach. “Outreach is an important component of SWE's community engagement and development, particularly through one-off events or larger programs. These events focus on introducing young minds to engineering, and helping empower students to prepare for careers within engineering and technology."  Knapp worked closely with SWE President Alexa Van Voorhis as well as SWE Advisor Dr. Laura Hanzly, Acushnet Middle School Principal Michelle Silvia, and the Director of Curriculum Angela Ruggeri, to make the event possible.

“As our first outreach event post-Covid-19, I was looking to partner with a school that SWE at UMass Dartmouth had preexisting connections with,” said Van Voorhis. “Our goal was to ignite a passion for engineering in the young women at Acushnet Middle School. We wanted to help students understand that anyone can be an engineer, and we need more diversity in the engineering field to make stronger teams, solve complex problems, and broaden skillsets. In engineering, the sky’s the limit, and getting these girls to start thinking about going into STEM at a young age is essential for them to one day make an impact in the engineering world.”

“Although this event is specifically for young girls, all genders are welcome," Van Voorhis said. Next semester, the SWE plans to recruit more students who are women and people of color from the College of Engineering to represent UMass Dartmouth. “One of our goals was to demonstrate that anyone can be an engineer, and increasing the diversity in our volunteer group was one of the ways to do that.”