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OPINION: A fun, inspiring event for kids interested in engineering

UPenn’s Society of Women Engineers Chapter hosted a Saturday event for high school students, giving us a chance to explore the different facets of engineering.
An Arduino is hooked up to a breadboard and a computer, with the function of lighting up the red light.
Kaitlyn Ho
An Arduino is hooked up to a breadboard and a computer, with the function of lighting up the red light.

GEARS Day has been around for at least ten years, standing for “Girls Engineering And Related Sciences.” All students are welcome to join, and many of the math and science teachers will hang up posters in their rooms with the application link.

On January 27, around 120 high schoolers from around the Philly area, freshmen to seniors, filed into UPenn, ready for a full 9:30 AM-4:30 PM day of engineering. The schedule was made up of two speakers, four workshops to showcase the different sectors of engineering, and lunch in between.

I’d only ever done something like this once before, where a college hosts high schoolers to broaden student horizons and, let’s face it, make the high schoolers more interested in going to said college. 

It was incredibly relatable, and I felt heard and seen in a way I don’t think I ever have, in terms of being a woman in STEM.

With only that other event to compare this to, I thought it was a wildly enjoyable experience, and my takeaways are honestly not what I’d thought they’d be beforehand. Going into it, I presumed I’d learn more about the field I was interested in, which I did, but they taught me so much more than just that.

To kick off the event, the presidents of the chapter and the outreach director at UPenn talked about the history of GEARS Day.

After that, the Philadelphia Society of Women Engineers Chapter—not to be confused with UPenn’s Chapter, which is composed solely of college students—had their vice president of outreach come and talk to us about her experience as a woman in physics. 

It was incredibly relatable, and I felt heard and seen in a way I don’t think I ever have, in terms of being a woman in STEM. My favorite bits were when she talked about perfectionism and the need to measure up around guys, and how lonely it can feel when it seems like the guys aren’t under the same sort of pressure you are to be outstanding.

All the workshops we did were taught by UPenn students majoring in that topic, and they provided us with all the materials we needed. They would give us the definition of the type of engineering, and their experiences majoring in that field. College students are so different from high schoolers, it’s sometimes hard to believe they were us only a few years ago.

The first workshop we went to was computer engineering, where we were given a mini-computer (an Arduino) to play around with. We wired the board ourselves and used to code to run it. They even let us keep the Arduino to take home. 

The second workshop we went to was working with Solidworks, a 3D printing software, to emulate the experience of a mechanical engineer. We made a fidget spinner, and we got to keep that as well. It was a severe callback to tech education from 8th grade with Mr. DeMara.

They served us free lunch, which actually wasn’t that bad. We got to eat in their cafeteria, and it was a nice way to imagine myself being a student at UPenn.

The third workshop was working with Arduinos again, except using them to make a little LED bulb light up with our heartbeats, and graphing them on the computer using code. This was bioengineering aka biotechnology engineering aka biomedical engineering.

The fourth and last workshop was about chemical engineering and materials science. We made ice cream using half and half, salt, sugar, ice cubes, vanilla extract, and Ziploc bags. Taste was 6/10, but definitely could have been worse. This is the field I am most interested in, and I actually got to talk to people who were in this program, which helped clear up a lot of questions I had. One even gave me her contact information, which was very sweet of her.

With one hour left, the students did a Q&A, and I learned about something at UPenn called VIPER, which is a dual-major science/engineering program with a focus on energy. It sounds pretty awesome, and I’ll probably apply for that if I decide to apply to UPenn when I’m older. 

They gave us little notebooks and coasters with the UPenn Engineering logo, which was a lovely keepsake. I might come back next year just for those.

If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you that I’m obsessed with MIT. I could and would talk for hours about why I love it there, but GEARS Day made me rethink my allegiances. I have finally realized that I can let go a bit more in terms of college admissions, because no matter where I go, I think I’ll be okay. All thanks to GEARS Day for that!

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About the Contributor
Kaitlyn Ho '26, Managing Editor of Web
Kaitlyn Ho is the current managing editor of web and the health and sciences editor of The Panther Press. Her first article was on the German Exchange Students. There was no turning back after that. She loves to learn about communicating complex science in simple ways, reading, dancing, artificial intelligence, and playing (badly) the piano and cello. Her future self can confirm that she will laugh at and enjoy every single thing her past self wrote.
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