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A diverse group of women engineering students gather at the March 4 Connextions event.

Women in Engineering Program Helps Y-12 Introduce Girls to Engineering

Middle and high school students from across East Tennessee traveled to the Y-12 National Security Complex Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGTE) on February 23 to hear current and future engineers talk about their jobs, engineering school, STEM opportunities, and how engineering is entwined in day-to-day life.

Faculty and staff from the Tickle College of Engineering (TCE) Women in Engineering (WiE) Program and the engage Engineering Fundamentals (EF) program traveled to Y-12 with a 3D printer and some balancing birds in hand to teach how physics can be applied and used to explain certain phenomena to all sorts of different age groups.

“It’s a fun annual event that encourages young women in our community to pursue engineering,” said Amy Biegalski, a senior EF lecturer who connected with the students during the day. “I love the opportunity to talk individually with students, answer their questions, and engage with them through fun hands-on activities.”

Hailey Henderlight, Jalonda Thompson, and Amy Biegalski are ready to welcome students at the Introduce a Girl to Engineering registration table.
Hailey Henderlight, Jalonda Thompson, and Amy Biegalski stand ready to welcome students at the event registration table.

Biegalski, along with Jalonda Thompson, director of the WiE Program, and Hailey Henderlight, WiE student program assistant, talked to future Engineering Vols about admissions to TCE, what science classes are like in college, and what one can do with an engineering degree.

Students excitedly watched as the 3D printer made miniature wrenches that they could take home. They also learned how the center of mass of an object can allow for weighted plastic birds to balance on the very tip of a finger without falling.

Henderlight volunteered for the event to help young women with STEM interests learn about these same opportunities that Chavez experienced. She also reconnected with one of her own important STEM influences.

“The highlight of the day for me was seeing my high school engineering teacher,” said Henderlight. “She was a large part of the reason I decided engineering was the right major for me in college.”

Her teacher’s encouragement led her to pursue STEM areas and helped prepare her for what to expect—including developing hands-on skills with lab tools such as a caliper.

“Now, two years into my engineering degree, I was able to talk to some of her current students about my experiences at UT and my favorite things about engineering,” said Henderlight.

Women engineering students test swag items at the registration table
Women engineering students test out swag items at the registration table.

Past attendees of the IGTE event find that the connections they made to the engineering world still resonate as they advance in their studies. Senior Lesly Chavez attended IGTE in 2019, and is preparing to graduate this May with her degree in biomedical engineering.

“Participating in the Y-12’s IGTE introduced me to the wide range of engineering disciplines,” said Chavez. “I had only heard of the more well-known disciplines such as civil, nuclear, and chemical.”

The IGTE event revealed to her the overlap of medical fields—an interest of hers—and engineering.

“I learned about the many opportunities I could do within the medical field, not just to become a doctor,” she said. “Attending this event also prepared me for the Tickle College of Engineering by giving me an insight into what courses are expected and that it’s okay to ask for help. The many women that were present at the event motivated me and helped waive some of the anxiety felt entering this male-saturated field.”

Representatives from several universities and companies attended the event to share the range of engineering experiences.

“The best part is all the positive energy in the room and seeing the students’ smiles and enthusiasm as they interact with the demonstrations,” said Biegalski. “IGTE brings together diverse female engineers from our community to empower female students and show them that engineering is for girls.”