Career exploration was the goal of a Tuesday workshop held at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas Campus. A newly-formed organization of college students invited high school seniors to find out more about the field of engineering.
The student leader of the UVI Society of Women in Engineering welcomed about 40 students, along with educators, school counselors, and chaperones.
Representatives from colleges across the U.S. mainland started the session with a panel discussion on making choices in higher education. A hands-on exercise led by Physics Instructor Dario Carbone followed. Teams of students were given materials — drinking straws, construction paper, balloons, and a penny — and instructed to build a moving vehicle that could carry a weight (the penny).
The instructor said physics and engineering are interrelated, but physics relies on theory, while engineers put theory to practical use. “When you build something, it needs to work. You can make it beautiful as well, but it needs to work first,” Carbone said. “They’re building a vehicle — a means of transportation for a coin — to move from one side of the table to the other.”
Teams brought their models to the testing table. One taped the penny to an inflated balloon and released the tip; it briefly took flight, then crashed.
One team folded the paper to form two sides of a channel. They made a box with the remaining sheet and set the penny inside. They then directed the air of the inflated balloon towards the box to sail it down the channel.
Another team tried to move their paper box, weighted with the penny, and using an air stream released from their balloon without a channel. There was also a team that assembled the straws, the paper, the box, and two balloons into a vehicle.
When the balloon’s tips were released, it zipped down the table and spun around in a circle. Team member Hiba Hussein from Charlotte Amalie High School bounced up and down with delight. All of the observers in the room agreed that the products of every team’s effort made the pennies move.
“We were asked to create a vehicle with the items we received … We took one sheet of construction paper and added the straws onto the bottom to allow it to move, and we had two other straws to connect to the balloon. The second construction paper was used to connect the balloons to the straws, and we folded the green one into a box to put the penny inside,” Hussein said.
Among those watching with interest was chaperone Ann Christopher. In her work life, Christopher began as a computer specialist, but wanted to add problem-solving and development to her skill set, so she said she obtained a master’s degree.
Christopher said she encouraged her high-school-aged daughter to join Tuesday’s workshop to help her think about her career possibilities. She said engineering requires contact and the manipulation of materials. Students receiving classroom instruction cannot get a full picture of how engineers work, she said.
Representatives from workshop sponsor Heavy Materials also sat by to observe. Yvette Williams said her company is part of the Virgin Islands construction industry, the second-largest economic driver in the territory. Many of the company’s clients use engineering skills on residential and commercial projects.
From what she has seen with those clients, Williams said young men get their experience in the field, usually mentored by company owners and sometimes relatives in the construction trade.
Williams said the company wanted to support Women in Engineering’s efforts to attract more local talent to the industry. “We recognized that as much as we invest in our human resources, these young ladies are the future. It’s important that we give back and invest in them.”
Carbone also mentioned that the workshop also gave the opportunity for high school students to learn about a new curriculum being introduced at UVI that may allow them to pursue engineering-related studies.
Women in Engineering-VI President Tamia Grant said the organization was established in 1950 and currently has about 400 active members. The Virgin Islands-affiliated student group came together a few weeks ago, made up of students pursuing engineering-related studies, she said.
The goal of the workshop was, “to inform high school girls about the vast options UVI offers in STEM fields and research, and to encourage them to seek higher education opportunities in the comfort of their home territory,” Grant said.