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Engineering Empowerment

Middle school girls learn to think like a Maverick

This spring the Colorado Mesa University engineering department partnered with the Girl Scouts of Colorado to host an important event aimed at introducing young girls to the field of engineering. 

CMU Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Sarah Lanci, CMU Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Michelle Mellenthin, PhD, and five engineering students guided nearly a dozen cadettes through three projects to help them learn how engineers solve problems and earn their Think Like An Engineer patch. They participated in the design process, tested the materials and applied their knowledge to fabricate a lower-limb prosthetic for a giraffe.

The collaboration was the first of its kind for the department and thanks to Lanci, Mellenthin and CMU's Women in Science and Engineering Club, a group of middle school girls have now experienced a world all their own, one where they feel they belong.

“As a previous girl scout, I can attest that there is something really empowering about meeting women working in a field that you might be interested in. Especially regarding the engineering discipline, many girls don’t have the opportunity to explore technical projects or meet women in the field at a young age. Because of this, girls can struggle to imagine themselves flourishing in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields,” said Mellenthin.

Growing up, Mellenthin never envisioned herself as an engineer and had no idea she would go down the path that she did.

“I didn’t know any women in the field and so when I was asked to be a part of this collaboration it really resonated with me,” said Mellenthin. “The Girl Scouts mission to empower girls to be courageous, build character and confidence, and work to make the world a better place really aligns with the passion that Sarah and I have for our disciplines and our eagerness to inspire future generations.”

Lanci’s hope for the event was for the cadettes to see that engineering isn’t scary, that’s it fun and that everyone has great ideas to bring to the table. For the middle schoolers, they explained that it opened up a new world where they were able to put pen to paper and from there, make an idea come to life.

By the end of the day, the girls were all proudly wearing their new Think Like An Engineer patches on their vests and they were now “equipped with the knowledge to think, honestly, like a Maverick,” said Lanci. She also encouraged the girls to “go think independently, think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to problems in their community.”

The CMU faculty, CMU engineering students and parents who attended the event were unified in their belief that these lessons would demonstrate to the girls firsthand that becoming an engineer is more than possible.

“You can be successful in this space; you can have a great career in this space and you can learn a lot of things,” added Mellenthin.

The CMU engineering department plans to continue hosting similar events in the future that will open up more doors for others to learn that they too can think like a Maverick.


Written by Kelsey Coleman