July 8, 2020

Women in Engineering Program leading activities remotely for area kids

On a normal summer Friday, anywhere from five to 12 students in the Women in Engineering Program would travel to summer camps or day care centers in the area to lead elementary-age kids in hands-on engineering activities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this program looks a lot different as engineering students lead kids through activities remotely instead.

Every Friday, Susan Bayley, assistant director of the Women in Engineering Program, brings tablets to YMCA and Safe Harbor, a summer camp, so that kids there can connect with current engineering students via Zoom. Using the tablets allows the program to continue their outreach while taking precautions and maintaining safe protocols for social distancing and hygiene.

Safe Harbor follows safety protocols during the pandemic, including temperature checks of staff and participants and maintaining social distancing. Staff and participants may wear face masks but are not required to do so.

Girl at engineering program with project A girl shows an engineering design she made at a Women in Engineering Program virtual event. (Photo provided) Download image

This is the seventh summer of the program. According to Bayley, a normal summer would involve activities with 1,000 kids at different day cares and camps in an eight-week period. “With the abnormal circumstances of this summer, there are only a handful of camps and day care centers operating,” Bayley says. “I wanted to be able to continue our outreach efforts to those that were in operation so that we can continue to spark and nurture kids’ interests in engineering.”

Bayley believes this outreach is important not only to give kids engineering experience through a fun, age-appropriate engineering activity, but also to connect the kids with female engineering role models.

One activity these engineering students have led consists of building kite cars from straws, pipe cleaners, construction paper, Lifesavers candy and masking tape. Kids listen to a book about wind cars, and then are challenged to build one themselves from those materials. Because there is not just one right way to do it, there may be many correct answers. If a car fails, kids are able to redesign it as many times as it takes to reach the goal.

Before each session, Bayley prepares the supplies and places them into individual bags. Each child has their own set of headphones for their tablet. “The end result has been worth the effort,” Bayley says. She believes there is value in the experience of interacting with college role models in this way without the risks of in-person visits. While the kids learn from engineering students via Zoom, Bayley serves to solve any technical difficulties that arise. She maintains her distance and continues to follow Protect Purdue codes while out in the community.

For the last six weeks, the program has been able to continue outreach efforts at the YMCA, and for the last three weeks at Safe Harbor. The sessions will continue at Safe Harbor and the YMCA every Friday throughout the summer. Bayley anticipates adding more day care centers and summer camps to the schedule as they reopen.

 

Writer: Kelsey Schnieders Lefever, kschnied@purdue.edu

Source: Susan Bayley, assistant director, Women in Engineering sbayley@purdue.edu


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