girls engineering day

WTS-Orange County hosts 5th Annual Girls’ Engineering Day at South Junior High School

Eighty transportation industry volunteers were up and ready to introduce over 100 female middle school and high school students to various disciplines within transportation at South Junior High School in Anaheim, on February 23, only they were several girls short. After the arrival of two delayed school buses full of students, Women’s Transportation Seminar’s Orange County (WTS-OC) Chapter, in partnership with Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD), hosted its 5th Annual Girls’ Engineering Day (GED).

“We ran into a few hiccups in the beginning, but we were able to recover quickly, make sure the girls were able to have fun, and learn about engineering,” said GED Lead and Project Manager at WKE, Garrett Kaya. “After all, that is what is most important.”

The girls were welcomed by a special guest speaker, Senator Ling Ling Chang from the 29th District, which covers the counties of Orange, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino. She shared with the girls how her interest in STEM subjects began with computers.

“In middle school, I was obsessed with computers. My mom would worry as a girl I was too obsessed with computers, so she would place a password, and I found a way around the password. I had a knack for technology, and she got smart,” Senator Chang said. “Because she didn’t want me to go onto the computer, because she knew I was breaking into it, she removed the keyboard so I couldn’t get onto it.”

Senator Chang continues to advocate for STEM-related programs for young women today, encouraging the girls to look into an App Challenge via her website that will take place during Women and Girls in STEM Week in April.

“I really want to encourage you all to pursue STEM careers, because it is incredibly important, especially in terms of transportation,” Senator Chang said. “Everything you see out there’s an aspect of transportation, goods movement, people movement, everything revolves around transportation. The work you will all be doing should you choose this path is incredibly important.”

Students from 19 schools were in attendance, representing five school districts. Before jumping into station rotations highlighting highway, transit, environmental, geotechnical, and survey engineering, the girls were divided between schools, grades, and districts, to tackle a structural engineering. The team building activity involved creating two different bridge structures out of straws to see how much “load” of juice boxes each bridge could hold.

As the girls began their station rotations, industry volunteers foster mentor-mentee interactions, while continuing to encourage team building amongst the students themselves. Each station begins with an introduction to the respective transportation field, followed by a hands-on activity related to the field. Los Amigos High School junior, Karen Gomar, found her knowledge of transportation increased after participating in the event’s transit station.

“When I did the first activity with the bus and the calculating, and the percent you get from getting the bus rides and all of that, it was pretty interesting how everything combines to make something work for the public and how it all contributes to society and the environment,” Gomar said.

Transportation industry volunteers, firms, and agencies not only assist in organizing and sponsoring the event, but also dedicate their time to provide instruction for the girls and offer their education and career journeys throughout the day as well. The hope is to inspire these young girls to find interest within STEM programs and cultivate the next generation of leaders in transportation.

“Beyond having now educated over 500 girls in six different transportation planning and engineering subjects, we’ve created a cycle as well,” said T.Y. Lin International Branch Manager Karen Chapman. “From our program, we’ve had two girls receive scholarships from WTS-OC and are going to college to pursue transportation-related degrees in the fall. These two students are currently seniors and [both attended] this year as well.”

One of these recent high school winners, Jamie Chang, a senior at Oxford Academy, joined other former WTS-OC Scholarship Alumni in presenting a College and Careers presentation. Each station rotation featured a College and Careers presentation covering the areas of college applications, scholarship applications, two-year college programs, internships, and the road to licensure.

Each year the support from both the transportation industry and AUHSD grows stronger. With the first three years of the program hosted at Dale Junior High School, South Junior High has now welcomed the event to their campus for the past two years.

“It’s amazing with the collaboration with all the teachers on campus, with our principal helping out,” said South Junior High Science Teacher and GED Committee Member Linh Ho. “We had science teachers on hand who helped out with the event. It was a team effort and it was such an amazing experience for our girls, because we got to bring more girls this year than any other year.”

Beyond the hands-on activities, one-on-one interactions, a goodie bag of various items from transportation firms, t-shirts, and presentations, participants also receive a certificate of completion at the end of the event to further commemorate their experience.

“One of the most rewarding parts of the day for me is the bus ride back to school,” said Girls’ Engineering Day Co-Founder and Dale Junior High Science Department Chair Phyllis Fukumoto. “My students were singing, because they had enjoyed the day so much. While we were waiting for their parents to pick them up, several of them were talking about how much they learned about transportation.”

This article was written by Allison Jenney, WTS-OC Board Member, Marketing Proposal Coordinator at Mott MacDonald.