Girls in WLWV get a taste of engineering at Collins Aerospace facility in Wilsonville

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Grace Wilson avoids crashing her plane during a ride in the Collins Aerospace flight simulator at the 'Introduce a Girl to Engineering" event Friday.Meridian Creek Middle School student Ruby Windsheimer was intrigued by the "Introduce a Girl to STEM" event hosted by Collins Aerospace at its facility in Wilsonville because she likes science and wanted to see if a career in engineering sparked her interest.

The verdict: It did.

"I think I'd enjoy it from what I've learned," she said. "The job would be fun and keep me on my toes. I would never get bored."

The company, which develops aerospace systems and other services for commercial aircraft, has hosted this event in Wilsonville for the past 10 years to try to inspire girls at Meridian Creek and Inza R. Wood middle schools to consider a career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field. Thirty-six girls from those schools attended the event Thursday, Feb. 20.

"We should be telling them that ... any option you want is available to you," said Lorrin Johnson, Collins Aerospace's marketing manager.

According to the Society of Women Engineers, women represent just 13% of engineers in the United States. Collins Aerospace has a 20% female population, but wants to forge a more equal gender balance, according to Jeff Priborsky, director of engineering .

The event included an exercise where the girls built a contraption using materials such as gumdrops, cotton balls, straw paper and paper clips to keep an egg secure enough so it wouldn't break when dropped from the top of the ladder. Like engineers do, the groups formulated a plan, drew a design and then built their device.

"Obviously, no industry is going to make an egg-protection vehicle like this. But it gives them a chance to be really creative and try (it out). And we also have them plan it first," Johnson said.

Windsheimer's group succeeded by forming a triangular-shaped contraption and placing gum drops at the bottom for support. Though Wood Middle School student Kate Gore's group's effort failed to protect the egg, she still appreciated the experience.

"It was fun to work with the girls," she said. "I like looking at what peers came up with."

Johnson said an artistic knack is useful in engineering, and girls sometimes suffer from the conventional wisdom that only the mathematical mind can succeed.

"Everyone views the world so differently, and women, I think, we miss their point of view because they're (girls) told 'You're better at art. You're better at music,'" she said. "We have different passions. We look at things differently."

After the egg exercise, the girls tried a flight simulator developed by the company and virtually landed a plane at the Portland International Airport.

Meridian Creek Middle School student Mattison Quinn found using the interactive guidance technology Collins Aerospace developed to provide pilots with information like altitude, fuel, latitude and longitude while they're flying fascinating.

"I feel like it (STEM)

is something great to learn about," Quinn said. "You could potentially change the way the world works."

Priborsky enjoyed seeing the girls become excited when they landed and giving one another high-fives.

"Landing an airplane is a pretty complex thing. They did a nice job," he said.

The girls also had a chance to see the helmets Collins Aerospace builds for the military, which have guidance systems, visited the optics lab, and also constructed circuits and LEGO machines during another activity.

Priborsky, for his part, enthusiastically recommends a career in engineering.

"It's an extremely rewarding career. Getting to see your ideas move from a mental image or a concept into something you can physically touch or build or interact with is very rewarding. It's been rewarding for me, and it will be rewarding for the girls in engineering as well," he said. "The other thing is that it's absolutely in reach. They can pursue that professional career. There are no barriers that will inhibit them. They can do it."

And he is optimistic that in the coming decades, there will be much greater diversity at his company and in his industry.

"It's going to change," he said.

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