Mercer students show middle schoolers how fun engineering can be as a career

1216
a girl and boy mix materials in a cup
Middle schoolers mix ingredients to make bouncy balls at the SWEET workshop on March 23 in Macon. Photo by Leah Yetter

Middle school students learned how to make bouncy balls and simple circuits at two workshops hosted by Mercer University’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. 

The activities, held March 23-24 in the Engineering Building on the Macon campus, taught the sixth through eighth graders basic concepts used in chemical and electrical engineering. 

Funded by the Engineering Information Foundation, the aim of the free, one-day workshops was to expose middle school students — especially girls — to the field of engineering. 

“The middle-schoolers had a great time learning about engineering from our Mercer engineering students,” said Dr. Sarah Bauer, assistant professor of environmental and civil engineering. “Our students here at Mercer were able to provide great insight into what it’s like to pursue a career in the engineering field.” 

While the number of women working in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math has increased over the decades, women still made up only 16.7% of individuals working in engineering and architecture in 2023, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“There is a lot of research that has been done over the years trying to figure out how we can continue to close this gap,” Dr. Bauer said. “Research shows that for middle school students, in particular middle school female students, this is the time when they really stay engaged in math and science or they don’t. When you get to high school, sometimes it’s too late to get students reengaged in math and science if they’ve veered off that path.”

School of Engineering students in the Society of Women Engineers led the workshops as part of the organization’s Society of Women Engineers: Engineers in Training, or SWEET, program. Dr. Bauer is co-faculty advisor of the Society of Women Engineers and directs the SWEET program. 

“I personally feel like engineering isn’t talked about as much, especially the details of what engineers actually do,” said Mylan Nguyen, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering and president of the Society of Women Engineers. “I wanted the middle school students to just gain a better understanding of what engineering is and to consider it a possibility for their career.” 

As a kid, junior Abby Hirtle liked to take apart old phones and look at the components inside. But she said it wasn’t until high school that she realized she could have a career in engineering. 

“I really never knew that it could be an option for me until I was looking at colleges and discovered the major,” said Hirtle, a computer engineering major. “A lot of girls think that they can’t do these things, or it’s not for them because it is a male-dominated field, but I think they should all know that it’s something they could totally do.”

In all, 30 middle school students attended the two SWEET workshops. Having college students lead the activities made the content more relatable, said Dr. Adaline Buerck, assistant professor of environmental and civil engineering, who helped with the workshops. 

“It’s easier to put themselves in a college student’s shoes, just having that ability to look at them and be like, ‘Wow, this could really be me,’” she said. 

Rebecca Mullaly, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering, said she hoped workshop attendees learned how fun engineering can be. 

“It’s all around us,” she said. 

Additional SWEET workshops are planned for May 4 and May 5 and Aug. 24 and Aug. 25. For more information, email Dr. Bauer at bauer_sk@mercer.edu

 

Do you have a story idea or viewpoint you'd like to share with The Den?
Get in touch with us by emailing den@mercer.edu or submitting this online form.
Jennifer Falk
Jennifer Falk is director of digital communications at Mercer. She edits and writes feature stories for The Den and examines web data and analytics to drive content decisions. She also creates and supervises the creation of content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters.