The Society of Women Engineers Partners with ThinkSTEAM to Mentor Young Women

ThinkSTEAM students attempt to build a table out of newspaper.
—Photo by Timothy Lee Photographers

Student volunteers from Columbia Engineering’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) joined forces with local nonprofit ThinkSTEAM on November 12 to host an afternoon design challenge workshop that introduced two dozen girls from area middle schools to the limitless creativity of engineering.

The workshop began with an orientation on the many facets of the field, followed by an interactive tour of Columbia Engineering Professor Sunil Agrawal’s mechanical engineering lab, where the girls saw technologies used in functional rehabilitation for adults and children with neural disorders. Demonstrations also included cable-actuated rehabilitation robots and an active leg exoskeleton.

“Being able to see the labs at Columbia Engineering was a great experience, and seeing a robot that helps people who have had a stroke walk again was especially cool,” said Catherine Menten, an eighth-grader at Cavallini Middle School in New Jersey.

Later, the girls competed in a rapid design challenge in which they built tables from newspaper sturdy enough to bear stacks of textbooks. They also heard from a panel of SWE members, who gave them advice on succeeding in high school, getting into college, and developing the skillsets needed to take maximum advantage of opportunities in engineering. Following the panel, they had a chance to make their own smoothies on a self-powered smoothie bike brought by ThinkSTEAM, a New York-based nonprofit founded by high-school student Jothi Ramaswamy, that seeks to link the arts with traditional STEM fields.

“The SWE event enabled me to pinpoint what I would like to do in engineering and what type of engineering I would be interested in,” Menten said.

For the volunteers, including members of SWE’s community outreach committee, such events offer an opportunity to encourage bright young women to explore STEM fields and to see how people in these fields can make a positive contribution to society.

“We were so excited to collaborate with Jothi Ramaswamy, founder of ThinkSTEAM, to host a workshop on campus,” said Ariana Almazan ’18, SWE’s community outreach chair. “It’s always inspiring to see the girls work together, ask questions, and show how truly engaged and interested they are.”

By Jesse Adams

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