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A Busy Saturday for STEM Outreach

Though no Villanova classes were scheduled on Saturday, March 21, more than 150 students and several faculty members were involved in engineering lessons in Tolentine Hall and Drosdick Hall. The Mechanical Engineering Department welcomed 90 Girl Scouts to campus, while the VESTED program— Villanova Engineering, Science, and Technology Enrichment and Development—brought 60 high school students back to campus for their second-to-last Saturday of the eight-week program.

Mechanical Engineering Girl Scouts Day included experiments with solar-powered cars.
Mechanical Engineering Girl Scouts Day included experiments with solar-powered cars.

Villanova Professors Introduce Girls to Engineering
Led by Professor and Associate Department Chair Amy Fleischer, PhD, the Mechanical Engineering Girl Scouts Day program began in 2010 and this year involved seven faculty members and more than 25 Mechanical Engineering students who volunteered their time. Assistant Professor Verica Gajic, PhD, along with Associate Professors Aaron Wemhoff, PhD, and Qianhong Wu, PhD, led a series of activities for 45 fourth and fifth grade girls, while Assistant Professor James O'Brien, PhD, with Associate Professors Gang Feng, PhD, and Ani Ural, PhD, taught the 45 sixth through eighth graders.

Among the activities for the younger girls were a solar energy car and rubber band powered plane. Julie Bogle, age 11, most enjoyed discovering how energy was stored in the rubber band, while 11-year-old Zagara Sims was more interested in seeing the sun’s effects on the matchbox-style car, which she tested in the parking lot outside Drosdick Hall. 

Inside Tolentine, groups of middle-school girls rotated between projects, which included creating prosthetic legs frommail tubes, cardboard boxes, sponges, bubble wrap, duct tape, rubber bands and rope. Learning to build a gravity-fed water network was a favorite activity of 12-year-old Katie Ackerman and 11-year-old Sabriel Watkins, who says, “It’s interesting how we were able to get water from one place to another.” Meanwhile, Lindsey Davis, 13, was most excited by her experience in the nanotechnology lab, “The machine was awesome; we saw a beetle, piece of hair, and a computer chip change in size!”

Dr. Fleischer appreciates the invaluable financial support received from alumna and Engineering Advisory Board member Anne Roby ’86 ChE, a senior vice president at Praxair, which provided a matching gift for the program. She says, “Anne understands the importance of introducing girls to this field and preparing the next generation of women in STEM.”

Designing a 3-D VESTED logo is one of many projects in this eight-week program.
Designing a 3-D VESTED logo is one of many projects in this eight-week program.

VESTED Introduces Hundreds of High School Students to STEM
Since 2007, under the direction of Stephen Jones, PhD, Associate Dean of Students and Strategic Programs, Villanova’s College of Engineering has provided high school students in grades nine–12 with an introduction to engineering over eight Saturdays in the spring. What began with 10 students from Roman Catholic High School has grown to more than 60 Philadelphia-area participants. Approximately 12 current Villanova students volunteer as mentors, lab assistants and presenters.

On this particular Saturday, participants were involved in creating a VESTED logo to print in 3-D, measuring both the physical and chemical properties of a newly dipped-in-chocolate Oreo, and designing solar-based home lighting for a developing country. Other projects have included making soap from biomass materials and applying equations of motion to a model roller coaster. Javari Marcano, an eighth grader, said his computer engineering experience was the most interesting, “We took a computer apart and it was surprising to see how many parts there are.” Javari is considering engineering as a career.

Current Villanova student, Boratha Tan ’16 ME, is an example of the program’s success. “I was in VESTED for two years as a high school student, and have volunteered with the program since my freshman year at Villanova.” From the time he was young, Tan has been interested in engineering, but his experience with VESTED convinced him to come to Villanova.

VESTED provides an educational experience not only for the high school participants, but also for the Villanova engineers who volunteer their time to help. Andre Meadows, a Chemical Engineering graduate student, has learned much about the group dynamic in his role as a mentor. “I’ve seen firsthand how mixing students with different gifts and abilities brings out everyone’s strengths and benefits the group,” he says.

On April 11, VESTED students will complete the program with an engineering presentation to parents and other guests.