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Engineering Summer School 2012

15 July 2012

On the 18th June eleven secondary school girls from Santa Sabina, Rockwell College, Mount Anville, St. Joseph of Cluny and Our Lady’s, Terenure descended on the Parson’s Building to learn about what engineering really is. For two weeks these 4th and 5th year students built robots, designed model airplanes, made their own 3D video clips, and much, much more as part of a two week summer school programme run by Trinity’s School of Engineering.

This summer school, founded and organised by Professor Kevin Kelly of the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, and director of the Engineering with Management degree programme, aims to introduce secondary school girls to the world of engineering, and to dispel the stereotypical view that engineering is just cars and bridges, or worse, just for boys! Over the two weeks these students got a taste of thermodynamics, materials science, electronics, biomechanical engineering, energy generation and aerospace engineering to name but a few.

Commenting on this years’ summer school, Prof Kelly said “It is ironic that at a time when the employment prospects for engineers are so good, that we have such a shortage of students interested in studying engineering. Among the root causes of this are a poor visibility of what engineering is really like as a career, and, particularly in the case of female students, many subtle and not so subtle messages young people receive about what they should or should not study. If we, as engineers and educators, want to change this, we have to communicate the message more effectively. With immersive programmes like this one we get a chance to show, through hands-on fun activity what the possibilities are for students and how rewarding it is to work in this area. Students get to see not just the technical side, but also the wide range of applications for the engineers skill set and the importance of management, communication and teamwork”.

The activities were organised and delivered by academic staff, post graduate students, and a small group of undergraduate students from the School of Engineering. The action packed two weeks included hands on activities such as programming robot puppies and building a solar cooker (despite there being no sun!), where the students learned some basic engineering principles.

There were also design projects where the girls learned about the design process, and the importance of working as a team to come up with an effective idea or solution to a problem. They designed and built their own model planes, and protective egg carriers which were dropped from the roof of the Parsons; only some of which survived the fall!

Over the two weeks there were demonstrations of various pieces of equipment such as a high speed camera, where the girls looked at popcorn popping and a water balloon bursting in slow motion.

The students got the chance to take part in the Hairdryer Challenge, an interactive online game created by Professor Kelly. In teams, the girls set up and ran virtual hairdryer companies. Played over six sessions, each team had a series of decisions to make, related both to engineering and management. They had to hire staff, purchase equipment and make marketing decisions etc. The game is guided in different directions through press releases, changing market trends and choices made by each company, with the winner being the team with the highest final balance. It got quite competitive, and was one of the favourite activities of the two weeks!

The summer school programme also included visits to the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department. Here the girls built some circuits and learned how a 3D camera works. They had great fun using a green screen and creating video clips of themselves with different backgrounds, and even made their own music video!

The girls also got the chance to meet some of the academic staff from the different engineering departments. They talked about their areas of research and what their jobs involve. The staff talked about their career paths and what first got them interested in engineering. This gave the students an idea of the broad range of opportunities available to those who study engineering.

Of course it couldn’t be all work and no play; there were games based on popular TV game shows, but with an engineering twist including; “Who wants to be an Engineer?” and” Jeopardy”, with prizes for the overall winner at the end of the week.

The students learned the importance of communication and teamwork and were asked to give a few presentations during the course. The skills they learned really stood to them on the final day when they presented their work to an audience of parents, teachers and friends. There were PowerPoint presentations about some of the activities they had done, and demonstrations of various projects.

Overall it was a busy two weeks and was thoroughly enjoyed by all! The students left with a better understanding of what engineering really involves, with many expressing their plans to return next year. When asked why girls should do engineering the response we got was “for the same reasons anyone else would”.

summer school

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