Women in Engineering conference at UMass inspires FCTS students
TURNERS FALLS — Cat Landers has a passion for chemical engineering, so her visit to the Women in Engineering and Computing Career Day at the University of Massachusetts Amherst opened her eyes to possibilities for her beyond high school.
“The conference gave me an insight into internships, career paths, scholarships, and opportunities for the future,” said the Franklin County Technical School senior. “Chemical engineering matches my other passion for marine biology. I only wish they would have this conference more than once a year.”
Landers, 17, of Millers Falls, was one of eight female FCTS students to attend the annual Women in Engineering and Computing Career Day Conference. More than 200 young women from 25 high schools in Massachusetts and the region explored the fields of engineering and computing through hands-on activities.
The goal of the conference was to excite, inspire and encourage young women to pursue engineering or computer science as an academic track and career path.
Students participated in activities such as electronic storytelling with Chibitronics, which was led by UMass College of Engineering undergraduate students; engineering drug delivery, led by UMass College of Engineering undergraduate students; and the lotus effect and capillary origami, which was led by Professor Jonathan Rothstein of the Mechanical Engineering department.
Conference participants also saw demonstrations of state-of-the-art technology and talked with industry representatives from Raytheon, BAE Systems, Pegasystems, Cimpress, Tighe & Bond, Woodard & Curran, and the US Air Force.
Sara Powell, 17, of Hawley said she learned a lot of valuable information from mingling with the various representatives.
“A lot of the companies I talked to had chemical and civil engineers working for them,” she said. “They all said that there are aspects of being a chemical or civil engineer that they can still learn. I want to be a mechanical engineer, so it was important to learn that even if you’re not a chemical engineer, you can learn and grow into that.”
FCTS lead science and engineering teacher Jonas LaPointe and programming and web teacher Cynthia Bussey accompanied the students on the trip. Bussey led a group of female students to the event last year.
LaPointe and Bussey both said there is a dearth of females entering engineering and computing classes and into related fields after graduation from college or technical school. Much of this shortage is due to stereotypes of women not being interested in the sciences and math, or being discouraged from entering those professions.
“By going to this conference I wanted to expose the girls to different types of teachers and other girls from different schools who are interested in technology,” Bussey said.
In the near future, jobs in computing and engineering will be in even higher demand than they are now as professionals retire and companies ramp up production and research and development.
“It’s important to offer this conference to younger girls because if engineering and computing are something they’re interested in, then it’s good that they become exposed to these fields early,” LaPointe said. “We were very excited to be going to the conference. Seeing the volume of other young women interested in engineering from schools in our area had a big impact on our girls, which was part of the goal.”
UMass alumna Carol Craig, CEO of Craig Technologies, was the keynote speaker and her story as a business owner and military veteran impressed the FCTS students.
“The keynote speaker did an incredible job,” Landers said. “She talked about how engineering helped her in life. She was great at connecting with the audience.”
Added Powell, “The keynote speaker put into perspective what it’s like to own your own business.”
Cassie Harris, 16, of Erving, was encouraged by the many possibilities there are for a career in engineering.
“From where we are now you can go into any engineering field you can think of,” she said. “I didn’t know I could go that far until I heard the keynote speaker. I want to be a mechanical engineer and I think I’d like to go to UMass.”