Shelley Latham Outreach Coordinator

From Student to Engineering Ambassador

PostedTuesday, March 27, 2018 at 7:28 PM

From Student to Engineering Ambassador

Do you know a high school girl with a passion for solving problems and a willingness to use her ingenuity and engineering design skills to inspire younger students? If so, EngineerGirl, a project of the National Academy of Engineering well known for its Essay Contest for 3rd-12th graders, has a new opportunity just for her: the EngineerGirl Ambassadors Program.

Research has shown that many girls do not consider engineering as a possible career choice simply because they have little exposure to engineering and limited access to mentors and role models. Even very talented girls pass-up opportunities to join a robotics team or STEM program, because no one has presented the benefits of such programs in a meaningful way. That means many girls miss the chance to pursue a stable and rewarding career as an engineer.  But it also means that our whole society misses out on the creativity and innovation that happens when women become engineers.

The EngineerGirl Ambassadors Program aims to address this problem by providing training, support, and recognition to high school girls across the U.S. who implement a project in their local community that encourages younger girls - particularly those with little access to career role models - to think about the field and give them practical experience in engineering design.

Ambassador banner

Every community is different, and EngineerGirl is looking for a variety of project proposals. Here are just a few general examples:

  • organizing and coaching a team in an engineering competition
  • creating a hands-on engineering challenge for local elementary school students
  • creating project kits that parents or teachers can check out at a local library
  • developing a video series about engineering’s importance in the community

Each Ambassador works with at least one local sponsor – a teacher, librarian, scout leader, local engineer, or other adult committed to helping her with her project. Sponsors will also have access to training and support throughout the year. Chosen Ambassadors will receive up to $250 for program expenses, a paid trip for the student and a chaperone to the Society of Women Engineers 2018 conference in Minneapolis this October, a chance at a $1,000 scholarship, and a year of mentoring and guidance from members of the NAE and SWE among other benefits.

SimilWe recently caught up with Simil Raghavan, NAE Program Officer in charge of EngineerGirl, to ask her more about this exciting new opportunity for girls interested in engineering.

What was the motivation for starting this new program at EngineerGirl?

SR: EngineerGirl reaches girls from elementary school through college, but we’ve noticed that a lot of our visitors tend to be high school girls.  This makes sense because girls in high school are more likely to be able to freely use the internet and may be thinking seriously about college. If they’ve already decided to take on a technical major like engineering, they might visit EngineerGirl both for support and for finding ideas and information about scholarships and other resources.  While we are happy to support students in that way, we also want EngineerGirl to engage those girls who don’t yet know if they want to study engineering in college.  The Ambassadors program was born out of a desire to connect with our current audience and simultaneously reach out and engage with more girls who do not have very much exposure to engineering and engineering role models.

How does this expand on EngineerGirl’s other initiatives?

SR: EngineerGirl has existed as an online resource since 2001.  We’ve always had an annual competition to help get girls excited and engaged, and we offer answers to questions and a virtual connection to female engineers, but this is the first time we’ve tried to bring the EngineerGirl visitors together in person for hands on training and networking.  It is an exciting step for us to connect more directly with girls around the country.

How many Ambassadors will be chosen?

SR: Given that this is our first year we want to take it slow and make sure we can fully support the Ambassadors in their projects.  We expect to only accept around 5 Ambassadors this year, but the goal is to increase that number annually until we are really reaching students around the country and can accept up to 100 girls per year.

Can you describe how the online mentoring with the NAE and SWE will work?

SR: It won’t all be online.  A lot of the training will happen at the annual SWE conference which will be in Minneapolis this year.  We will also have a number of webinars to check in and answer questions.  Before the conference we’ll have a couple of online meetings to go over specifics of travel and what to expect.  Afterwards we will stay in touch via these online meetings to make sure students are able to stay on track, share their victories and challenges, and brainstorm ideas with each other.

How can educators help their students take advantage of this opportunity?

SR: Every student needs to have at least one local sponsor so an educator would be a perfect candidate, and local sponsors will be invited to attend the SWE conference with their student where they will find many training and networking opportunities.  An educator who teaches middle school or elementary school students might want to seek out a high school student to work with.  For those who teach high school, an educator can help by brainstorming ideas for an outreach project, connecting students with potential sponsors, and giving advice on how to create a compelling proposal.  High school teachers may also serve as a sponsor for students, but we ask that the primary sponsor be affiliated with the school or organization where the outreach will take place.

Any words of encouragement for girls thinking of applying?

SR: Don’t imagine that your outreach project has to be really complicated.  Just think about which girls in your community could benefit most from some experience with engineering, and then think about the best ways to reach them.  There are lots of resources online and elsewhere that can help with curriculum and planning ideas.  The purpose of the Ambassadors program is to help girls support younger girls in their communities so if you are having trouble coming up with good ideas, ask some community members where they think you could make a difference.

LinkEngineering members have a valuable role to play: You can let people/schools/organizations in your community know about this great opportunity, you can offer to sponsor a young woman, you can offer to advise or assist on their project. Students and their Sponsors can also use for project ideas, to contact potential advisors, and to ask questions of the community.

The Abassadors Program is managed by the National Academy of Engineering, in partnership with the Society of Women Engineers. Visit the EngineerGirl website for complete details about the program. The application deadline is May 31, 2018.

What sorts of EngineerGirl Ambassador projects do you think could benefit your community? Let us know in the comments.


Photo credit:  College of DuPage Society of Women Engineers, 2015 via Flickr Creative Commons License

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