ERIE, Pa. — “Ssscccrrrunnch!”
Lilli Mason ripped a long piece of masking tape from its roll. She then carefully used the tape to position a cardboard pipe vertically against the wall. That same pipe then connected to another piece of pipe, only this one was positioned horizontally.
“We need four turns, and one of those has to be a right angle, so we’re putting it at the beginning,” said Mason, a sophomore at Cambridge Springs High School.
“Yep, getting it right out of the way,” added Mason’s teammate Samantha Rose, a sophomore at Harbor Creek High School.
Along with Central Tech High School sophomore Taylor Rango, Rose and Mason comprised one of the teams competing in the Pipeline Challenge workshop.
The competition was one of the many workshops that more than 165 high school students participated in during Women in Engineering Day at Penn State Behrend on Friday, Nov. 13. This marked the 10th year for the event, which is designed to introduce high school girls to engineering fields and careers through a series of hands-on activities.
Just one high school attended Women in Engineering Day in its first year, but the outreach effort has grown to host as many as 30 schools annually. More than 1,040 students have attended the event during its 10-year history.
“There are many occasions where young women do not go into the field of engineering because they do not understand what it is or what engineers do,” said Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach and the Engineering K-12 Outreach Center. “By introducing these high school girls to professional women engineers, we are showing them different career options. The girls also have the opportunity to meet great role models and mentors that can impact their lives in the future.”
During the day, more than 40 women — professionals from Construction Process Solutions LTD, Erie Insurance, Eriez Magnetics, FMC Technologies, GE Transportation, LORD Corporation and National Fuel Gas — presented workshops to the girls, who came from 23 different high schools in Pennsylvania and New York.
In the Pipeline Challenge, coordinated by first-time sponsor National Fuel Gas, students worked to develop a pipeline system that could transport a golf ball or pingpong ball from one side of the classroom to the other. Students needed to incorporate four angles into their design, one of which needed to be a 90-degree turn. The difference in height from one end of the pipe to the other could be no more than 18 inches, and random hazards, such as environmentally-protected areas or bodies of water, needed to be avoided.
“We have the girls get divided out into groups and start sketching out their design. But once they start designing the pipes, they realize it’s not as easy as they thought,” said Rachael Sebesta, an engineer at National Fuel Gas and one of the coordinators of the Pipeline Challenge.
One challenge that arose for Rango, Rose and Mason was finding a way to support the pipes. The workshop’s instructions said nothing specific about how participants could keep the pipes from falling over. Like true engineers, the group decided to improvise, taping their own pencils and rulers to the sides of the pipes and floor.
“We’re using all of our resources and taking advantage of what we have,” Rose said.
The trio’s resourcefulness paid off. The ball ultimately was able to travel the necessary distance, encountering no hiccups along the way.
“We figured dropping the ball (vertically) from the start would help give it some momentum, but we thought it might be too heavy. But it worked, so we’re happy,” Mason said.