Logo: University of Southern California

Westridge High Teens Get Inside Look at USC Engineering

Women In Engineering (WIE) Connect 2008 program introduces girls to a bright future in science and technology

March 05, 2008 — “Engineering Adventures” may have been a defining moment in the lives of 40 girls from Westridge High School who wanted to learn more about engineering.
Westridge High School girls question Viterbi student presenters during Engineering 101, held in Tutor Hall.

After a day of presentations and hands-on engineering experiments led by 35 Viterbi School undergraduate women, the girls, all of whom are exceling in math and science, knew more about engineering than their college counselor. And for some of them, the visit to USC may have been the start of a long and rewarding career in the field.   

“As a college counselor, I’m always asked to explain engineering, but I always feel a little at a loss as to what it is,” said Lee Stork, Westridge director of college counseling.  “But this program is just great. I feel like the girls already know a lot more about engineering right now – in the first hour of this program – than I could ever have told them.”

Stork was part of the Viterbi School’s Women in Engineering (WIE) Connect 2008, a unique program offering high school girls a chance to learn more about the field of engineering.  During this year’s visit to the Viterbi School, Westridge High School girls gained a first-hand understanding of engineering’s many subdisciplines through “Engineering Adventures,” and visited parts of the campus, all to spark their interest in engineering and encourage them to enroll at USC when the time comes. 
Viterbi School freshman Mari Gallegos, who graduated from Westridge High School.

That’s exactly what Viterbi School freshman Mari Gallegos did one year ago.  As a senior at Westridge, she applied for admission and a Presidential Scholarship at USC.  The scholarship brought her to campus for an interview and an overnight stay. By morning, she knew she wanted to pursue an engineering degree at the Viterbi School.
“Coming here, meeting people, going to a couple of classes just felt so right,” said the freshman, who is majoring in mechanical engineering. “I knew immediately that I wanted to be here.”

She got the scholarship, too, which made her an instant star among the Westridge girls, some of whom remembered Gallegos in her Westridge uniform not too long ago.

The day started with a welcome breakfast on the second floor of Ronald Tutor Hall, followed by introductions from Kate Baxter, director of the Women In Engineering program.  Each girl was given a packet of materials and a WIE Connect 2008 t-shirt, then filed into a classroom downstairs for Engineering 101, a presentation by Viterbi students on the many different disciplines within engineering.

Ten undergraduates presented brief introductions, explaining what each field was, why they chose to major in it, what projects they’d worked on in their classes, and where that type of engineer might work after graduation. 
Did we pass? Westridge girls built this miniature vehicle to  carry napkins in a 10-minute race with other teams.

“These girls aren’t really sure about engineering, so we wanted them to hear from Viterbi School women students and professors because the role models really help,” said Barbara Shannon, a science teacher and administrator with a Ph.D. in science education from Rossier School, who started the one-year science and research course at Westridge.  “When you bring them out here and show them all of these majors, then let them intern in a laboratory with a scientist or post-doc, they just blossom.”

“It’s important to let girls see that women can have it all, that they can have a family and be a professor, and to show them the range of disciplines they can pursue,” added Tracey Tromp, a Westridge math and science teacher with a doctorate in geology from the College. “It’s not just about taking biology, chemistry or physics, it involves the environment, learning about geology, geophysics, maybe planetary exploration, and it can be about biomedical engineering, physiology and subjects in medicine and health.
At another station, a Viterbi School mentor showed the girls how to launch bottle rockets.

“We’ve had students go off to Stanford, Harvard, USC and other top schools who would never have dreamed when they started out at Westridge that they’d become science majors in college,” she said. 

After Engineering 101, the students broke up into six teams for “Engineering Adventures,” a series of hands-on demonstrations held at six stations around the Viterbi School quad. Among the activities, they built bottle rockets and launched them into the sky; extracted DNA from strawberries using household materials; built miniature K-Nex payloads on wheels to carry napkins and water cups; and learned how to design a production line to efficiently package and ship a product.

At lunch, they shared tables at EVK Residence Hall dining facility with female faculty and staff who work at the Viterbi School, and had a chance to ask more specific questions about engineering and about the USC campus.   Louise Yates, associate dean of Admission and Student Affairs, was also on hand to answer questions.
Viterbi School mentors, who hosted WIE Connect 2008.

“Letting them see the campus and a residence hall is really important, because that’s how I knew I wanted to go to USC,” Gallegos said.  “It’s not just about having the academic ability to do the work, but to see where you will fit as a person.”

“This is the second WIE Connect program that we’ve put on, and it was a great success again this year,” Baxter added. “The program has quickly become a staple in the Viterbi Women in Engineering Program.  It’s a great way to introduce younger girls to engineering, as well as teach our Viterbi women the importance of mentorship.”

Viterbi undergraduate student leaders for WIE Connect 2008 were:  Jennifer Accolti-Gil, Roxanna Aliabadi, Stephanie Berry, Jeannette Chang, Tina Chou, Kate DeSousa, Mari Gallegos, Gezche Graves, Shefali Gupta, Anna Harley-Trochimczyk, Bailey Harris, Gwen Howell, Stephanie Herzog, Kristin Inouye, Penny Ishizuka, Michelle Kim, Kelly Mettler, Kristine Mitchell, Sharon Morad, Jaimie Muryama, Erin Napua-Kampschroer, Debbie Ngai, Jessica Quintero, Torey Raphael, Emily Ross and Stacey Schwartz.