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Engineering Summer School 2011 - Breaking down the barriers

"A scientist looks at things as they are and asks why? An engineer dreams of things that have never been and asks why not?"

3 August 2011

On 20th June, the Parsons Building was taken over by something far more terrifying than one hundred caffeinated civil engineers with a hammer and an idea..... Eleven sixteen-year-old girls!

The goal was simple. To eliminate the notion that engineering is all cars and bridges and teach them what it really means to be an engineer. And above all, to show them that engineering is definitely not just for boys. The programme is founded and run by Kevin Kelly, lecturer in the Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing, and Director of the Engineering with Management degree. It has the aim of addressing the gender imbalance in the student intake common to most engineering programmes, despite the fact girls that do make that choice perform as well as if not better than their male counterparts. It is my belief that many girls rule out engineering as a career option at an early stage, and usually do so despite knowing very little about what being an engineer really entails.

Kevin explains that the two week summer school provides them with an opportunity to experience how broad profession engineering is, with a view that they might consider it as a possible future career choice. He continues It is important to do this in a way, and at an age, that it can positively influence, or at least broaden, their range of potential career options. The course involves practical demonstrations, classroom activities, lecturer and postgraduate interviews and presentations – emphasising the breadth and depth of activities and knowledge involved in engineering – including the hands-on creative nature and the importance of the relationship with business and innovation – key elements of the Engineering with Management programme.

“Our perception of engineering has completely changed in the two weeks of being at Trinity” said Katie Petherbridge a transition year student who hopes to return next summer – the summer school is a rolling programme in which the girls take part in the summer before their fifth year in school and return for a second course before sixth year.  

Over the two weeks they were launched into a crash course in the world of engineering. From designing robots to soldering circuit boards, the course was jam packed with innovative engineering projects. Designing iPod docks, jewellery manufacture, laser eavesdropping, hydro-electric power stations and that’s only the beginning. They learned about the design process, used Pro-Engineer and Working Model and saw their ideas through from concept to finished product, making their own iPod docks and silver plated pendants. Encouraged to give presentations, they learned the importance of good communication and teamwork in engineering.

Academic staff gave insight into the opportunities that could be in store for them by talking about their exciting and very different career paths. They got a taste for bioengineering, thermodynamics, aerospace, materials analysis, energy generation and acoustics. Very few professions allow you to choose whatever career path you like but they realised that as an engineer the world really is at your feet.

For the first time this year, the programme was extended to include the wider school with the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering opening their doors to them for a day each where they designed and tested a bridge, were lifted up in a crane, learned to build circuits and got tea. Everyone loves a good cup of tea! Postgraduate students also took a break from their busy schedules to show them interesting applications of the theory they would learn in college, such as the high speed and thermal cameras. Drawing on themselves with ice and getting to slap one of the teaching assistants in the face had everyone laughing. The course was “a great way to expand our horizons on engineers and what they do for us in our lives today” said Iseult O’Donnell.

On the last day, their parents were invited to Trinity to see all that they had achieved in two weeks. They demonstrated their iPod docking system with karaoke and flat-panel speakers, showed how to use a lemon as a battery, and gave presentations to the group on what they had learned before impressing everyone with their robot fashion show.

Leaving, smiling, with certificates in hand, eleven bright girls were no longer asking why choose engineering but rather, why not?

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Summer School - Class of 2011

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