Secondary School Girls Build Robots and Design Mobile Phones during Trinity Engineering Study Visit

7 July 2010

How to build and programme a robot.  How to build and test a model airplane or design and build a mobile phone. These were  just a few of the activities secondary school girls from Santa Sabina School in Sutton and Our Ladys School, Terenure, enjoyed at a recent activity packed study visit at Trinity's School of Engineering.

The study visit which is designed and organised by Kevin Kelly, of the School of Engineering aims to provide the young girls with an opportunity to experience the breadth of engineering, and how it impacts on their daily lives, with the objective that they would consider it as a future career choice.

"Engineering programmes in most European countries tend to have male/ female student ratios of 4:1 or more.  In the engineering with management degree programme, at Trinity College, we have a slightly higher ratio, but still operate well below 50% despite our experience that female students do as well or better than their male counterparts," explains Kevin Kelly, a lecturer in mechanical and manufacturing engineering and director of the engineering with management degree.  He continues: "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.  This programme aims to enable the girls to experience the latest in engineering technology, see the relationship between business and engineering, and learn more about both, while having fun.  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."

Iseult O'Donnell, Santa Sabina School, Sutton using an oxy-acetylene welding torch.

The pupils' own comments bear testament to the success of the course as Roisín McMacken of Santa Sabina School explains: "Engineering has so many different paths to offer and this course really brought to life what engineering involves; from bridges to bone grafts - there's something for everyone."

While Aisling Brazel of Our Ladys School added: "I feel particularly honoured to be able to participate in this programme for the second year running.  Going into 6th year, a lot of my friends are already panicking about the CAO, but thanks to this programme, I'm 100% certain what my first choice will be!"

The study visit's intense schedule contains five principal types of activity.  These include hands-on activities where the students engage in active learning/ design/ construction exercises, ranging from building and testing a model airplane to designing a prototype mobile phone to  building/ programming a robot. 

There are also demonstration activities  where  the students get a piece of equipment or process demonstrated to them - e.g. measuring forces in an athlete's running shoe, using a thermal imaging or a high speed camera.

Classroom learning activities include lectures on specific topics, typically as a precursor to a practical activity - e.g. learning the theory of projectiles which they can later use in their design and test of a medieval catapult.

The students also get to meet with the School of Engineering's staff members allowing them query the academics about their teaching and research interests as well as their career paths in engineering. And there are also self/peer learning exercises where the students are given resource packs or information sources and are asked to prepare presentations to be made to each other. They are given critical feedback on both the presentation techniques and their understanding of the source material

The activities are all supervised and delivered by academic staff, postgraduate research students, and a small number of undergraduate students.

In the course of the programme, students also get a taste of Trinity's own engineering with management degree programme and its range of activities and it is hoped the students may consider studying engineering at Trinity in the future.

The study visit programme is a two year rolling programme where girls enroll after finishing transition year, and return the following year. Each year's two-week programme culminates with a   'show and tell' demonstration event on the last day, where parents, colleagues and teachers of the participants are invited to come in and see the work that their they have done.

The participating students once again validate its success as Sive Sakac, Our Ladys School says:  "This course seemed like a good opportunity to try and figure out what I wanted to do in the future. I've learned a lot already. Engineering is definitely something I'll consider in the future."

Paula Tierney of Our Ladys School observed; "The highlight of the course for me was getting to present all that we had done and learn to our parents on the last day.  Everything really came together and that was a definite sense of achievement. The course was a fantastic experience from start to finish and I am so grateful for getting the opportunity to take part in it."

And Iseult O'Donnell, Santa Sabina concludes:  "During this course I have learned a lot, but the most interesting thing was a powerpoint presentation I had to prepare on car engines.  I now have a new found interest in car engines!"

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