Monday, February 24, 2014

[396] MTSU tech event for girls provides hands-on fun, career options

MURFREESBORO — For Mary Neall of Bradyville, Tenn., the Friday, Feb. 21 visit to MTSU may have been a career-changing experience.

And you have to wonder how many of her teenage peers felt the same way after attending the first Engineering Technology Girl Day.

Neall, a Cannon County High School junior and member of the Woodbury Future Farmers of America student organization, said she “was undecided on what I wanted to do in college” before coming to Girl Day.

“Now it’s going to be in the science field,” said Neall, who said she enjoys plant and soil science and added MTSU “is the only college I’m looking at. I’m definitely going to come.”

To watch video of the day’s activities, visit

The combined 50 invited girls from Oakland, Cannon County, Smyrna and other high schools heard from professionals in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

Better yet, they experienced hands-on projects that included making a cell phone charger out of an Altoid metal box and a green energy windmill.

“It’s very productive and interesting,” Oakland junior Samantha Seibert said. “I learned things that I didn’t know.”

Like Neall, Seibert said she might consider a career switch from the medical pathway she currently is in at Oakland.

“My mom (Shannon Seibert) did this, and she was in engineering and chemistry,” Samantha Seibert said.

Driver Catherine Ruiz of and Rosanny Britto, both juniors at Smyrna High were the first of a number of girls to try out the foot-pedaled MTSU Moonbuggy, which competed and finished third overall and was best in the United States during the 2013 Great Moonbuggy Race at the NASA Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“It’s fun to do hands-on things for a change,” said Katie Gannon, a sophomore who is in the health sciences program at Cannon County. She added that it was “fun to make the windmill myself and see it.”

MTSU engineering technology professor Kathy Mathis wants it to be fun.

“We’re trying to inspire, to show female STEM students that it’s fun,” Mathis said. “We’re problem-solving.”

Keynote speaker and MTSU alumna Bobbie Jo Meredith of Smyrna, Tenn.-based Schneider Electric said she “got lots of questions — everything from what are my hobbies to how much money I make” from the girls after her “Explore the Possibilities” talk.

Meredith said her work has sent her oversees, to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Prague, among other places. “They were interested in my travel,” she said.

Oakland sophomore Reagan Ross said she found the day’s events “really interesting. I never really thought about engineering. … I’m starting to think about a career in engineering.”

As part of National Engineering Week, Girl Day looks to become an annual event, said engineering technology chair Walter Boles. The idea for Girl Day originated from chemistry professor Judith Iriarte-Gross, who also serves as director of the MTSU Women in STEM Center and lead organizer for the fall Expanding Your Horizons in math and science and Girls Raised in Tennessee Science events.

After lunch outside Voorhies Engineering Technology building, attendees were treated to a Women in Engineering panel discussion.

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