California State University Long Beach
Engineering Girls
@ the Beach

By Alaina G. Levine

Dr. Christiane Beyer, a professor in mechanical and aerospace engineering shows the girls how to prepare a virtual computer model from a real model using 3D digitizing technologies.

"Engineering Girls @ the Beach" is a one-day outreach program offered by the College of Engineering at California State University Long Beach (CSULB) to promote engineering to young girls at the elementary to high school level. This event includes participants from elementary and middle school girls (grades 4 through 6) and has been offered every spring semester for the last 5 years. The ASME Diversity Action Grant supported this endeavor in 2013. This is the fourth consecutive year that the CSULB student section of ASME has received this prestigious award.

The program consists of hands-on workshops related to a wide range of engineering disciplines offered by CSULB engineering faculty and student organizations. Bei Lu, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and CSULB ASME Student Section Advisor explained that the workshop activities are designed to foster problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, while illustrating the fun and the importance of engineering and related careers in STEM. "Overall, the program focuses on helping children develop an understanding of the relationship between mathematics and science and the ability needed to advance in the engineering profession based on achieving competence in these areas," Lu described.

School teachers, counselors, and principals also participate alongside their students so that information gleaned from the program can be propagated in the classroom setting.  Lu noticed however that the benefits of the program spread quickly among the students themselves. “Kids tell each other about the experience and share with their friends why they would want to participate,” said Lu. This word of mouth has helped the program grow continuously every year.

Shane Sorbom has been actively involved with the CSULB Student Section of ASME and served as its President in 2012-13. He described “Engineering Girls @ the Beach” as a “great day,” in which he and his teammates “had a lot of fun teaching the girls about engineering.” But for him, the best part was witnessing a “transformation” of the girls’ attitudes right before his eyes. “The kids started the day only moderately interested in STEM, but by the time they finished they couldn’t wait to get started in a career in engineering,” noted Sorbom. During a robotics demonstration, as the girls wrote code to weave the robot through an obstacle course, “one girl’s eyes and face just lit up,” he recalled, “And that’s why I do this!”

Sorbom gained many skills from the experience. He was intimately involved in the planning and logistics of the day’s events. He helped craft the learning outcomes and organize two presentations, one on robotics and the other on computer modeling, which also involved training the other CSULB students on how to utilize the systems and teach the selected core concepts. Sorbom was also able to hone his public speaking and leadership abilities, while corralling the scores of energetic girls who participated, something that was “no easy feat,” he said with a laugh.