TCD teaches secondary school girls engineering skills

7 Jul 2010

Secondary school girls learned, amongst other things, how to build and programme a robot and how to build and test a model airplane during a study visit at Trinity’s School of Engineering recently.

The study visit, designed and organised by Kevin Kelly of the School of Engineering, aims to provide the young girls with an opportunity to experience the breadth of engineering, and how it impacts on their daily lives, with the objective that they would consider it as a future career choice.

“Engineering programmes in most European countries tend to have male/female student ratios of 4:1 or more.  In the engineering with management degree programme at Trinity College, we have a slightly higher ratio, but still operate well below 50pc, despite our experience that female students do as well, or better than their male counterparts,” explained Kelly.

“It is my belief that many girls rule out engineering as a career option at an early stage, and usually do so despite knowing very little about what being an engineer really entails. This programme aims to enable the girls to experience the latest in engineering technology, see the relationship between business and engineering, and learn more about both, while having fun. It is important to do this in a way, and at an age, that it can positively influence, or at least broaden, their range of potential career options.”

An intense schedule with five types of activity

The study visit’s intense schedule contains five principal types of activity. These include hands-on activities where the students engage in active learning/design/construction exercises, ranging from building and testing a model airplane to designing a prototype mobile phone to building/programming a robot. 

There are also demonstration activities where the students get a piece of equipment or process demonstrated to them, for example, measuring forces in an athlete’s running shoe.

Classroom learning activities include lectures on specific topics, typically as a precursor to a practical activity, such as learning the theory of projectiles which they can later use in their design and test of a medieval catapult.

The students also get to meet with the School of Engineering’s staff members, allowing them to query the academics about their teaching and research interests, as well as their career paths in engineering.

Peer learning exercises and presentations

And there are also self/peer learning exercises where the students are given resource packs or information sources and are asked to prepare presentations to be made to each other. They are given critical feedback on both the presentation techniques and their understanding of the source material — all valuable skills if they later decided to start their own business.

Paula Tierney of Our Lady’s School commented: “The highlight of the course for me was getting to present all that we had done and learn to our parents on the last day. Everything really came together and there was a definite sense of achievement.”