Annual Program for Girls Shows What it Takes to Be a Transportation Engineer

High school students present their ideas for how they would connect Harbor Boulevard with Disneyland Drive. More than 125 girls particpated in this year's Girls' Engineering Day in Orange County. All photos by Kristopher Fortin/Streetsblog CA
High school students present their ideas for how they would connect Harbor Boulevard with Disneyland Drive. More than 125 girls particpated in this year's Girls' Engineering Day in Orange County. All photos by Kristopher Fortin/Streetsblog CA

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 oneand 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.

Neelam Dorman, a senior transportation engineer with Kittelson & Associates, Inc., works with students in deciding the best bus route to make that would hit key destinations but avoid specific areas that would slow down its commute. Students did hands on exercises and heard presentations in different areas of engineering, which included environmental, geometrical, highway and traffic, transit and surveying. Streetsblog CA/Kristopher Fortin
Neelam Dorman (left), a senior transportation engineer with Kittelson & Associates, Inc., works with students to design the best bus route to hit key destinations but avoid specific areas that would slow it down.

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.

Students at Girls'Engineering Day build a suspended bridge made out of straws and popsicle sticks. Working with two designs, the girls had to see which would be better to hold the weight of multiple juice boxes. Streetsblog CA/Kristopher Fortin
Students at Girls’ Engineering Day build a suspended bridge made out of straws and popsicle sticks. Working with two designs, the girls had to see which would better hold the weight of multiple juice boxes.

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.

  • This sounds like an awesome program. If there was ever a male dominated profession, it’s traffic engineering. As someone who places professional talent for a living, I hope more women choose to be traffic engineers and shape our built environment. Kudos to the people who started this and the many volunteers who support it!

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