Pirates, prosthetics, and STEM

Pirates, prosthetics, and STEM

The University of Rochester’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter came up with an innovative program to engage nearly 100 girls from local elementary schools during a recent STEM workshop on the River Campus. The theme was “seaworthy science” and there was big emphasis on pirates. But, what does that have to do with science, technology, engineering, and math?  

Plenty, as it turns out.  

For example, the girls learned about mechanical engineering principals by building “planks” out of Popsicle sticks to see which one could hold the most pennies. They engaged in a “scavenger hunt” in which they took apart computers to find the circuitry treasures inside.  

Shawn Biehler from the orthotics and prosthetics department at the Medical Center even loaned some leg prosthetics to show the improvements that have been made since the pirates’ classic peg legs. Julie Bentley from the optics department loaned out optics lens kits for the day to teach the girls how telescopes work. 

“At the end of the program, the young girls left excited about STEM and the volunteers remembered why they wanted to go into engineering in the first place,” reports Kathryn LaBine ’18, SWE’s outreach coordinator and a mechanical engineering major. “It was fun to see these young girls so inspired by technology.” 

It was a collective effort, too. About 40 Hajim School volunteers (all undergraduate women) got involved, as did faculty from the Hajim School and the Medical Center along with the student chapter of Women in Computing who taught the girls about coding.  

According to Wendi Heinzelman, dean of the Hajim School, this is exactly the age when “we need to interest female and underrepresented minority students in STEM.” 

The Society of Women Engineers’ outreach workshop taught engineering lessons to girls K-6 from the Rochester community. Their goal? To inspire the next generation of female problem solvers.

You can help
To learn how you can advance undergraduates in STEM, contact Eric Brandt ’83, Executive Director of Advancement for the Hajim School, at (585) 273-5901.


—Kristine Thompson (adapted and inspired from this story by Kathryn LaBine ‘18).



More Stories

  • Coach Pat Stark with Jeff Wittig ’86

    Coach Pat Stark: ‘He was part of our family’

    Peter “Pat” Stark, who had a highly successful career as a coach and an administrator at the University of Rochester, passed away on June 19. He was 90 years old....

  • Mike Sportiello

    Getting food onto the tables that need it most

    Mike Sportiello is third-year PhD student at the School of Medicine and Dentistry. He’s studying immunology and how certain cells fight influenza infection. This is the kind of research that could lead to the construction of an effective ...

  • ‘Our community is rallying together’

    Rochester alumni and friends around the world are helping to keep health care workers safe, advance COVID-19 research, and support students with emergency needs....

  • ‘Our parents and alumni in China are true University ambassadors’

    The University’s China Parent Network Committee arranged an initial donation of 3,000 face masks for immediate distribution to students who were still on campus. The network then called upon the broader Chinese parent community—comprise...