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KINGSBURG – When you think of technological advances, you may think of high-tech inventions such as computers or space travel. Melanie Morales, however, said technology can be advances as simple as rubber bands, scissors and even tables.

“Technology is anything man-made that makes our lives easier,” she explained to the students taking part in the “Engineer it, Girl!” workshop.

Morales was one of the presenters at the hands-on Nov. 9 engineering workshop that took place at Kingsburg’s Roosevelt Elementary. Valley PBS received funding from Chevron and The Central California Women’s Conference to sponsor the event.

“So were these scissors man made?” she asked. “Yes, and they make our life easier because we can’t cut paper without them and have the paper stay the shape we want it to be.”

Morales lead the students as they built miniature catapults out of clothes pins and wooden sticks and then later made ukuleles out of a cardboard box and tube that day.

“Technology does not mean it has to turn off and on like this projector or this computer. That’s electronics. But other things that don’t have wires can also be technology.”

Civil engineer Kathleen Szolowicz, who works for Engineering for Kids in Bakersfield, was another of the presenters. She told the children that she didn’t even realize what an engineer was until she was heading off to college.

“I went off to school to study engineering and it was super fun. I got to do all sorts of cool stuff and learn how roads and bridges are made and how water flows and how to build things and crush them. It was super fun.”

Szolowicz said she became a civil engineer designing things that many take for granted, such as roads and underground water systems.

“It’s things maybe you don’t see every day, but someone had to put the effort into designing it.”

The students also had a chance to meet and take pictures with the characters from PBS’ “Peg + Cat” children’s program.

The parents in attendance said they hoped taking part in such sessions would spark an interest in STEM careers in their daughters and sons. Currently, women make up 48 percent of the workforce overall, but only 24 percent of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers. ValleyPBS and Chevron sponsored the workshops to empower girls at a young age to feel confident in their interests and give them a free opportunity to explore and experiment with these projects.

“[This] is a good experience to get some exposure to something maybe she hasn’t had any prior experience in,” Heather Schofield said of her daughter, Roz. “She likes to make little projects and has a whole craft cabinet. She likes to color and build little things with her construction paper, like cards with layers.”

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Stephanie Bennett had brought her daughter, Emma, who already likes to play with Legos and seems to be a whiz at math.

“She’s excited to see the characters that she likes and maybe she’ll have an interest beyond math. I know I didn’t have these kinds of role models or the push to do this kind of stuff when I was a kid. I like that now it’s, ‘let’s get our girls involved to do these kinds of things.’”

Morales continued to lead the students through the thought process behind the projects and to think the way real-life mechanical engineers do.

“The first thing they do is ask questions [such as] ‘what do I want this to do? What kind of materials will I use? How much time do I have to make whatever I want to make?’ Once they do that, they brainstorm ideas. They design with a blue print and start building. But do you think they’re done then? No, then they test it.”

As the students finished their catapults, then it was time to test them out and add designs to the project.

Daniel and Patricia Perez brought two of their children, Emily, 7, and Ethan, 5, to the session and say all three of their children wind up doing similar activities - painting, drawing and building things.

Daniel Perez is an IT analyst for Fresno County and has a degree in computer engineering, so hands-on projects are more of a natural activity at their home.

“Not these particular activities, but they like to build thing like Legos and other stuff,” he said. “They like to disassemble things and assemble things, so I want to get them some experience in different types of engineering fields.”

Emily, 7, said she may prefer to become an artist or writer and liked that they were able to add drawings to the first project.

“It just worked,” she said as she sent a small pom-pom through the air.

“You did have to figure out how to use it though, so it would go far?” her father said.

Patricia Perez also agreed that exposure to STEM-related careers was not the norm when she was growing up, so she’s glad such workshops are offered to intentionally help girls think of such futures.

“I hope it broadens her choices a little bit more. Growing up, there were people who’d go to school for nursing and that’s it. That’s what we had, but I want her to know there are other options, too. She doesn’t have to do just what her cousins do, or what mom and dad do.”

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The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.

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