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The University of Texas’ annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day will celebrate its 16th anniversary tomorrow. Though the event is now hailed as one of the largest of its kind in the nation, it certainly didn’t start out that way.

Fewer than 100 students attended the very first event. That number has increased to nearly 80 times the original turn-out, with some eight thousand elementary and middle school students coming together last year to learn some of the basic lessons in engineering.

Director of the Women in Engineering program at UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering Tricia Berry says the event was created to tackle the issue of few women enrolling in their school.

One of the biggest reasons it’s hard to engage young people, Berry says, is that they oftentimes are uncertain about what exactly it is.
“It’s kind of a mystery field,” Berry says. “Girls in particular haven’t had that opportunity to get their hands dirty and get in and play and create and make things.”

Berry says the activities at the event help participants get first-hand knowledge and experience with the type of work that engineers do.
In one of Berry’s favorite activities at the event, younger children make geodesic domes out of gumdrops and toothpicks.

“It helps them see how strong triangles are and what the structure of a dome looks like and they get to be a building engineer for a day,” Berry says.

The work they’re doing is paying off, Berry says. Although the current 30 percent female enrollment in UT’s engineering program hasn’t reached the 50 percent Berry says she’d like it to be, that number is going up every year.

“If we’re still doing this in 15 years I feel like we wouldn’t have been doing our job,” Berry says. “I would like to be out of a job sooner than later. I would like us to reach parity.”

Written by Morgan O’Hanlon