Annual Program for Girls Shows What it Takes to Be a Transportation Engineer
Which to destroy: a hospital, Disney Store, or House of Blues? Briana Bojorquez and Marcella Terrasas, both 16-year-old students at Shadow Ridge High School in Hesperia, considered the dilemma of which brick and mortar establishment should be reduced to rubble so that a road could be built to connect Harbor Boulevard and Disneyland Drive. It’s a tight squeeze for the road; thus something’s got to go.
“How about take away those hotels?” Bojorquez suggested.
It’s only an exercise. The House of Blues is not in jeopardy. It was just an opportunity for more than 125 girls attending the fourth annual Girls Engineering Day in Orange County to practice thinking like an engineer and to work with professional engineers on these kinds of problems. The event, which took place in Anaheim roughly two weeks ago and was put on by the Orange County chapter of WTS, or Women’s Transportation Seminar, paired girls with engineers who work in various areas of transportation, including highway, rail, and transit planning and design, land surveying, geotechnical engineering, and environmental engineering.
“We want to show them that there are options,” said Karen Chapman, WTS events committee chair, about exposing the girls to different engineering fields. “Maybe it’s not transportation, but maybe it sparks something else.”
Throughout the day, students alternated listening to professional engineers talk about their career path and working with hands-on exercises. To start off, they had to build a suspended bridge out of drinking straws and popsicle sticks using one of two design types—either a square support structure or a triangular one—and test how many juice boxes the bridge could support. During lunch, they listened to Carrie Schindler, the director of Transit and Rail Programs for the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, talk about her career and work.
Students in middle and high school apply to participate in the program and must be recommended by their science teacher. Teachers are the ones who tell their students about the program, and they learn about it either through word of mouth or past experience. Seventh through twelfth grade students, mostly from the Anaheim Union High School District and neighboring cities, came to the all-day event.
The program was started through a partnership between Cherie Eifler, then Transportation YOU representative and WTS member, and Phyllis Fukumoto, a science teacher at Dale Junior High School. Fukumoto was looking to expose her students to opportunities in engineering, and a mutual colleague put her in touch with Eifler. From there, the idea expanded from something for Dale Junior High to the entire high school district.
For the first three years, the camp was held at Dale Junior High School. After the success of its first year, when 75 girls participated, students from other schools were invited, and each year the program has expanded incrementally. It’s the only such program run by WTS in California–so far.
The annual event is run completely by volunteers, with more than a hundred people donating their time for the day. Volunteering also gave WTS members the opportunity to return the favor for support they’ve received from the organization. Ashley Kim, a transportation engineering assistant at DKS Associates, talked to students in the morning about how getting scholarships from WTS supported her education at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. It was the first time she shared her story in front of a group of youth.
“I wanted to give back to the community and help girls get into STEM,” said Kim.