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Girl Scouts learn about engineering

(Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette) Girl Scout leader Brenda Aten, far left, and Michigan Tech Society of Women Engineers member Tailyn Klepsa-Orrey, far right, help Girl Scouts Gloria Aten, Kiira Hahka, Rory Anderson, Liliana Benfit and Mariah Garcia with a project sending balloons down a zipline as part of their engineering badge Saturday.

HOUGHTON — Saturday afternoon, nearly 90 Girl Scouts learned what it means to be an engineer. 

It came through trying and failing. Then trying again and failing. Then eventually, trying and succeeding. 

“Seeing that look on their face when they finally get something to work, that’s the most rewarding part of it — to see them say, ‘Yes, I did this. I can do it even though it was hard to do,'” said Zoe Wahr, outreach director for Michigan Tech’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter, which organized the event. 

The 86 Girl Scouts from northern Michigan and Wisconsin came to Michigan Technological University Saturday to earn their engineering badges. 

“We had girls come from as far as Green Bay to attend this event, and that’s pretty normal,” said Jane Markkanen, community development manager for Girl Scouts of the Northwestern Great Lakes. “They know that Michigan Tech and SWE does a wonderful job, and so they come from all over.”

Lake Linden’s eCybermission team helped design some activities, while Blue Marble Security provided supplies for LED Christmas trees, said Gretchen Hein, advisor for the SWE chapter. 

Events like Saturday’s help show girls there are women in the engineering fields, Wahr said. After Saturday’s events, several SWE students fielded questions from the Girl Scouts about what they had done in engineering and their experiences in college. 

“I’m not cool. She’s cool,” Hein said, pointing to SWE member Kiira Hadden, one of the presenters. “These young women, they would rather be working and seeing what engineers look like based on people who are closer to their age.”

Kindergarten and first-grade students made robot fingers and also learned about force and gravity by attaching open balloons to a zipline. Older grades had projects such as “Wigglebots,” powered by a small motor. Students sixth grade and up worked on the Christmas trees. 

“It was a little bit more difficult to find ones for the younger kids,” Wahr said. “Our goal was for them to be able to work for themselves, and challenge themselves.”

The youngest group adapted on the fly for the zipline, which was originally a smaller-scale activity. Instead, Girl Scouts zoomed balloons down a line that descended diagonally to the front of the lecture hall. 

“I feel doing the bigger scale was more fun for everybody to watch, so I’m glad we changed it up a bit,” said Tailyn Klepsa-Orrey, a first-year chemical engineering student at Tech and an SWE member. 

Julia Heflin, a Cadet Girl Scout from Calumet, came last year, and enjoyed hanging out with her friends and learning her new skills. Having Tech alumni as parents, she also likes doing activities on campus. 

A fan of math and science, Heflin is considering engineering as a career.

She learned the value of perseverance, especially when her Christmas tree didn’t light up at first. 

“It’s just trial and error,” she said. “You don’t know which ones will work. So you have to experiment, and that’s what scientists do.”

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