High school girls explore engineering through tinkering

TINKER campers take apart toys provided by Fisher Price during a reverse engineering activity.

Published September 5, 2017

By Sarah D'Iorio

“If you don't tinker, or explore, how can you truly know what interests or excites you?”
Katherine Czerniejewski, BS ’16 Biomedical Engineering/Math

What do Traveling Superheroes, Ozobot Adventures and Cosmetic Chemistry have in common?

They were all activities enjoyed by high school girls during this year’s TINKER, an engineering camp designed to introduce girls to different disciplines of engineering while debunking the common misconceptions that prevent women from considering an engineering career.

The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences hosted 60 local students entering grades 9-12 during the annual camp, which took place on August 7-11. Throughout the week, campers got to engage in hands-on engineering projects and interact with female engineering faculty, students and professionals.

“Our mission is to allow girls to explore engineering in a fun and safe environment so they can make an educated decision about their future career path,” said Katherine Czerniejewski, BS ’16 Biomedical Engineering/Math, who is one of the co-founders of TINKER.

Czerniejewski, along with Julie Fetzer (BS ’17 Civil Engineering/Industrial Engineering) and Dana Voll (BS ’16 Electrical Engineering), started TINKER while they were undergraduate students at UB with the goal of encouraging more females to consider STEM careers. They soon partnered with SEAS to offer the first summer camp in 2015.

Since graduating, Czerniejewski continues to stay involved in the camp — helping to develop activity ideas, schedule tours, and handle other logistics for the week. She also serves as President and Treasurer for TINKER, which recently incorporated as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit.

At TINKER, the campers attend presentations and complete projects in different engineering disciplines, including chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, environmental engineering, industrial engineering and mechanical engineering.

Favorite projects among this year’s participants were Traveling Superheroes, Ozobot Adventures and Cosmetic Chemistry. In Traveling Superheroes, an industrial engineering project, the girls were challenged to consider a disaster relief scenario and deliver as many "supplies" as possible to "disaster relief victims" at stations across campus while using the most efficient path. Ozobot Adventures required the students to program a tiny robot to get through a maze using JavaScript. During Cosmetic Chemistry, the girls made their own lip balms and bath bombs while learning about the chemistry behind the recipes.

“I relate tinkering to exploring, where young people can explore different things that interest them in a casual, fun way. If you don't tinker, or explore, how can you truly know what interests or excites you?” Czerniejewski said.

The girls also toured local engineering facilities like General Motors, General Mills and Bascule Bridge, participated in a team building exercise, and attended a professionalism presentation and women in engineering panel.

“Being involved with TINKER has been a highlight for me, specifically when it comes to the end of the program and the girls are sad to leave — that means we did something right,” said Czerniejewski. “At the closing ceremony, we have all of the girls present their favorite part of the camp as well as their future plans and to be able to hear that engineering is now something they're considering, it makes it all worth it.”

To learn more about TINKER, visit https://www.tinkergirls.org/