Just Plane Fun: Society of Women Engineers Visits Bellefonte Middle School Students for Engineers Week

by Katie Ciccaglione

On Thursday, February 27, four Society of Women Engineers (SWE) members traveled to Bellefonte Middle School to give an outreach presentation to half of the 6th grade class. Although the presentation was given to both male and female students, the event was scheduled to occur on National Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, which is part of the week-long Engineers Week celebration. On Monday, March 2, three more SWE members returned to the school to give the same presentation to the other half of the class.

The presentation began with an overview of what engineering is and the impact it has on the world. We also discussed the different disciplines of engineering, and shared our own personal engineering experiences. Finally, we talked about how they, as middle school students, can “test drive” engineering by going to STEM camps or job shadowing an engineer that they know. The presentation was very interactive, as the students already had a decent grasp on engineering, so they were very eager to answer our questions and even ask their own!

The second part of the presentation included an interactive design activity. The purpose of the activity was to teach the students about aviation science and the engineering that goes into making a plane fly. The students were then given a chance to work in groups to create their own airplanes using different types of paper, paperclips, binder clips, and tape to see which group could design the plane that traveled the farthest. Before diving into the design activity, we gave a brief overview of the four main forces affecting the flight of an aircraft: thrust, lift, drag, and gravity.

Nicki Gallegor, outreach director of SWE, says she was excited when the students understood these different properties and how to apply them to simple paper airplanes to make them fly. For example, they knew that for the case of their paper airplanes, thrust would be generated by the forward throwing motion of their hand, as opposed to a jet engine.

When the groups of students were given their materials, there was slight chaos as they began the design process. However, when the time came to test the planes, the students were very cooperative and had a great time cheering on their classmates!

The top two teams whose plane traveled the farthest, and the team with the most creative design, were given prizes. Nicki says her favorite part was when the students came together to take an epic selfie while holding up their creations.

Outreach events like these are very important to SWE because we recognize that the only way to supply the world with future engineers is by getting students interested in engineering at an early age. Interactive presentations are a great way to do that, because students are able to see first-hand how cool engineering can be!

Katie Ciccaglione is vice president of student relations for SWE. A native of Pittsburgh, PA, she will graduate this May with her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Katie plans to move to New Orleans to work as a well interventions engineer at Shell Oil Company.

Nicki Gallegor is a mechanical engineering sophomore from Pittsburgh, PA. She will complete an internship at Rockwell Automation this summer. 

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