Behrend hands-on workshops promote engineering career options


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“Does anyone know what extrusion is?” Nicole Gailey, director of R&D and innovation at Trivium Packaging, asked a group of six girls during a workshop for Penn State Behrend’s Women in Engineering program.

Girls made homemade dough – rolled it, kneaded it and pressed it through various accessories.

In other words: Extrusion.

“Did you put toothpaste on your toothbrush this morning?” Gailey asked. “It’s extrusion.”

The “Ready, Set, Dough” workshop explored the process of shaping the material and forcing it through an opening. It was one of more than a dozen hands-on workshops offered as part of the Women in Engineering program – Behrend’s first large-scale in-person youth outreach program since the start of the pandemic.

“When it was hot it tended to come out faster and softer,” said Caitlin Riley, a student from Fort LeBoeuf. She was one of 105 students, mostly female, who visited Behrend for the program.

More than 20 area schools participated in this year’s Women in Engineering Day, which was coordinated by the college’s Youth Education Outreach office. Engineers from Zurn, Wabtec, TechnipFMC, Trivium Packaging and Snap-Tite led the workshops.

“Our goal is to introduce students to all aspects of engineering,” said Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach and teaching assistant professor in computer science and software engineering. “A lot of people don’t know what engineers are doing.

“The practical environment opens a dialogue,” said Ford. “It opens up new possibilities for you. I want to reach out to students who have the potential but haven’t thought of engineering, and then encourage them.

In Gailey’s studio, the girls brainstormed ideas for a new bottle shape. One group came up with a pyramid design, which would prevent the bottle from rolling.

Gailey encouraged them to keep thinking and not be embarrassed by coming up with new ideas.

“You should hear some of the conversations we have at work,” she said. “They seem silly, but sometimes they become the next best thing.”

The group also heard from Ashley Seamon, a student at Behrend from McDonald, Pa. She gave the opening speech of the program. She challenged the girls to step out of their comfort zone and not be afraid to fail.

“I expected to be a minority as a woman in engineering,” Seamon said. “It shouldn’t be disheartening. It must be motivating. Don’t be afraid at all.

She encouraged the group to keep trying new things, even if it takes them to areas other than engineering.

“Don’t lose your curiosity,” she said, “because that’s what will keep you going in life.”

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