Necessity is the mother of invention: SWE expands K-12 STEM outreach, all at a safe distance

During COVID-19, every activity has gone through changes and adaptations, Iowa State’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) is no exception to that. But SWE has found a way to continue to offer K-12 STEM outreach, utilizing the unique tools of technology.

In previous semesters, SWE members ventured into local elementary schools for STEM nights or to host outreach events. Typically, SWE hosts two large outreach events Girls Learning and Exploring Engineering (GLEE) and Girls Discovering Engineering (GDE). These jam-packed events gave K-5 and 5th-8th students a full day of educational projects and activities.

“We want the young kids in the Ames area, especially young girls, to explore a potential interest in any sort of STEM field, hoping that we can expose them to the really cool things you can do as a woman engineer,” SWE President Allison Austin said.

Shifting gears

When SWE realized their typical in-person outreach wouldn’t be a possibility, they shifted their plans to make sure their message would still be spread.

As engineers do, SWE found a way to adapt and change to make sure they could still continue their important outreach. They decided to make step-by-step YouTube videos for at-home projects. Until it is safe to return to in-person events, they will continue to post and distribute these videos.

Creating the videos required creativity and the ability to overcome obstacles. Austin said they gathered their video ideas while keeping in mind the projects needed to be completed with household supplies.

You can view the videos here . Activities range from marshmallow towers to blood models to static butterflies.

Connecting to STEM

Throughout all the changes, the goal of SWE remains the same. Understanding the responsibility of the role they play in young girls’ lives has kept them motivated to continue on.

“I think our outreach program is so helpful when it comes to inspiring interest in engineering and science subjects. Not only do these young girls get to see themselves do small scale activities that we plan for them, but they also get to see and connect with all of the college females in our club,” Austin said.

Expanding outreach

With the additional challenges of COVID-19, SWE is not only matching what they have previously done but in the process of rolling out a new outreach project. Last spring, SWE began a high school program SWENext with sections in Ames High, Gilbert High School, and a high school in East Iowa and Australia.

“Starting in such an unfamiliar time has shown lots of challenges, but we connect and meet virtually with all of these sections now anywhere from every week to once a month,” Austin said.

During these SWENext sections, the focus is more on technical projects such as designing in Solidworks or working through a design project with the national SWE organization. They also host panel sessions allowing everyone to ask questions.

“We love to provide different opportunities for them to ask us about the different engineering disciplines, as most of them are already thinking about what they would like to study in college,” Austin said.