Alisa Santiago, Brittany Loper, Sarah Shaw and Neely Colvin sat parallel to one another, looking down at the wooden car they had just built.
“Okay, I think we’re ready to go,” Loper said.
With her partners huddled behind her, Colvin took the vehicle to the top of the ramp, positioned it appropriately, and let it go.
One and sixty-two tenths of a second later, the car was at the bottom of the ramp, posting the fastest time of any car that competed in the Design Problem workshop.
The competition was just one of many workshops that more than 160 high school students participated in during Women in Engineering Day at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, on Friday, Nov. 21. This marked the ninth year for the event, which is designed to introduce high school girls to engineering fields and careers through a series of hands-on activities.
“There’s two parts to it,” said Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach and the Engineering K-12 Outreach Center. “We’re trying to educate them on what engineering careers are, and we want to show them successful women who have balanced a career and family. You can do both.”
During the day, more than 30 women — professionals from Construction Process Solutions LTD, Erie Insurance, Eriez Magnetics, FMC Technologies, GE Transportation and LORD Corporation — presented workshops to the girls, who came from 19 different high schools.
In Design Problem, sponsored by LORD, students were tasked with designing a wooden car that’s low cost, low weight and can make it down the ramp in the fastest time. It had to travel down three different ramp types — smooth, potholes and bumps. The car could weigh no more than 65 grams and its simulated material, labor and test costs could not exceed $220.
The car designed by Santiago, Loper, Shaw and Colvin came in at 42.17 grams and cost $184.80. It was more expensive than some of their competitors, but that was by design. The group purposely equipped it with four large tires of the same size.
“All of the tires are the same size just like they would be on an actual car,” said Colvin, an 11th grade student from Cambridge Springs High School. “We built it like an actual car because cars usually take on all different terrains well, and we figured this would as well.”
The girls’ hypothesis proved accurate. Their car took first place in both the smooth (1.62 seconds) and bumpy (1.75 seconds) races and finished second in the pothole one (1.65 seconds).
“It’s been fun to do this today,” said Santiago, a 10th grade student from Meadville High School. “It’s important to see all of the different job opportunities that are out there for women.”