July 15, 2009; Boston, MA – Nitsch Engineering, Inc., a Boston-based civil engineering firm, recently hosted its 8th annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day – the theme was “Designing and Building Bridges for the World.” Nitsch Engineering partnered with HDR, MassHighway, and the Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) to educate 6th to 12th grade girls about the many aspects of bridge design and construction. 46 girls participated in the event, which was held in a high-rise residence hall at Boston University. The view from the room displayed numerous bridges over the Charles River.
The event kicked-off with an icebreaker activity where the girls learned fun facts about different types of bridges. During this activity, HDR and MassHighway presented real pieces of bridges, underwater bridge inspection gear, and deteriorated bridge piles.
Following the icebreaker, Judy Nitsch, President of Nitsch Engineering, urged the girls to believe in themselves and consider a career in engineering. She introduced the girls to three women bridge engineers: Emily Roebling who managed the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge over 100 years ago; Jennie Lee Colosi, PE, President of ET + L Corporation in Stow, Massachusetts, whose firm has built or renovated dozens of Massachusetts bridges including the Sagamore flyover; and Linda Figg, of Figg Bridge Engineers in Florida, who focuses on designing bridges as art.
Luisa Paiewonsky, the Commissioner of MassHighway, told the girls that if they want to have an impact on the world and if they want to make the world a better place, engineering is the field to enter. Loretta Doughty, PE, a structural engineer with HDR, spoke about different bridge projects that HDR has designed; she wrapped-up with, “Now how cool is it to see something as amazing as a bridge that you designed get built?”
For the main activity, the girls built bridges out of pasta and marshmallows. Middle school students had a set amount of materials to work with, while the high school students designed and prepared cost estimates for their bridges before receiving their building materials. The completed bridges were strength-tested with “penny cars” and judged on length, height, and design aesthetics. The winners were awarded a private tour of the Tobin Bridge, courtesy of Mary Jane O’Meara, Executive Director of the Tobin Bridge.
The event ended with a panel of women engineers speaking about engineering as a career and how they made that rewarding choice. The panel included Carrie Lavallee from MassHighway, One Hwang from EOT, Susie Bailey and Allison McGann from HDR, and Silpa Munukutla and Deb Katzman from Nitsch Engineering. The panel allowed the girls to put a face on the field of engineering and to connect with women who are changing the world. Each of the girls received a calendar featuring bridges from the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Tobin Bridge tour winner, North Reading 10th grader Katherine Lasdin said, “The event was so much fun. I loved building the bridges and working on all of the problems we had to solve. It was neat that there was a contest too. We learned that having more materials and spending more money is not the best.” Erin Joyce, PE, Nitsch Project Engineer and Michelle DiBenedetto, EIT, Nitsch Project Designer, accompanied Katherine on the Tobin Bridge tour.
About Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day
Started by the National Society of Professional Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, and IBM in 2001, Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day aims to increase interest in math and science among girls. Now organized by the National Engineers Week Foundation (http://www.eweek.org), Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day has become a global event, reaching over one million young women each year.