Colter Peterson, KSL

At University of Utah engineering day, high schoolers get glimpse of different fields

By Ashley Imlay, KSL | Posted - Nov. 23, 2019 at 8:22 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly 500 teens got a glimpse into the life of an engineering major at the University of Utah on Saturday.

Sammy Sanyil, a high school senior, has been interested in engineering for much of her life, after seeing robotics at her dad’s work. She said mechanics in general fascinate her.

“A lot of times it’s interesting to see how different machines interact with the world, and how people interact with machines,” she explained.

“Today’s been pretty fun,” she said of the U. Engineering Day, which invited high school students to tour different areas of the school’s engineering buildings and learn about different fields, from 3D modeling to biomedical engineering to ergonomics.

Shameka Kimmel, of Idaho, went to the event because she’s already applied to the U. and was visiting for a tour. “I just got an email about it, I thought it was fun, so I came,” she said.

She said she wants to be a biomedical engineer.

“I’m in a youth group called Job’s Daughters, and we do a lot of stuff with the Shriners Hospitals for Children, and they work with prosthetics there, and I just got kind of inspired,” she explained.

Her favorite part of Saturday’s event was seeing a robotic arm that, among other things, can play the game “rock, paper, scissors.”

Andrew Merryweather, a professor in the ergonomics and safety program, told the high schoolers about what people in his field do and showed the students examples of his lab’s work — including making athletic equipment that allow people who are paralyzed to participate in sports like skiing and kayaking.

Nicholas Jacob, 16, looks at a display at the civil engineering booth during the University of Utah's annual Engineering Day event on campus in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. More than 600 students from around the nation registered for the event that gives parents and students an inside look into the different areas of engineering study offered at the university. (Colter Peterson, KSL)

“I think the most important part of this event is to let students see how neat engineering can be, and all the different opportunities exist in, specifically, engineering in this case. And that can be the difference between them going to a different field entirely or saying, ‘Wow, I remember that one time, and I saw all these neat things. I really want to do that,’” Merryweather said after giving a presentation to about 12 teens.

He said past events of this kind have helped encourage students to join his program.

“Especially when we start talking a lot about our adaptive sports and recreation, because many people have a connection to someone with an injury or a disability, and they think, ‘I can use my talents to help with that,’” Merryweather explained.

At the event, there seemed to be about an equal number of boys and girls there to learn about different aspects of engineering.

“Certainly, women have been historically underrepresented. These events, again, can make a difference between more involvement by female engineers, or less. And we’re seeing that these events actually do make a difference,” Merryweather said.

Teagan Burrell, a ninth grader, said he attended the event because his dad had taken him to an expo at the university where he learned about the engineering day. “And I thought, since I like engineering, I thought I’d come down here and see what it was like.”

Sixteen-year-old Grace Fearnley, left, and other high school students watch a fire burn in a wildfire modeling machine while Walt Sorensen, right, talks about his research using the chamber during the University of Utah's annual Engineering Day event in the Environmental Fluid Dynamics Laboratory on campus in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019. More than 600 students from around the nation registered for the event that gives parents and students an inside look into the different areas of engineering study offered at the university. (Colter Peterson, KSL)

“I really like this engineering stuff that they have. I really like this stuff. I’m planning on doing it now,” he said.

Teagan’s favorite presentation was on computer engineering “because you can see how they take parts and modify them to communicate with other parts and programs,” he said.

But he said chemical, mechanical or electrical engineering seem the most appealing to him.

“I wish that I was a lot younger and I could become a chemical engineer,” said Stuart Hennigs-Cornell, a father who attended the event with his his daughter, Sequoia.

“It was really good. It was fun,” said Sequoia, a senior interested in studying science or engineering. Her favorite part was learning about gallium oxide, and how it’s a semiconductor. She said the event made her more interested in engineering.

“It was a pretty informative day. Pretty cool,” Stuart Hennigs-Cornell said.

Morgan Boyack, academic program coordinator in the U. engineering department, said about 450 students showed up for the event, including some parents.

“It allows students to find out more about engineering and get specific into the fields. ... I would say the general public doesn’t really understand what an electrical engineer or a computer engineer really does. So we can give them more information to figure out, so they can make an informed decision what they want to major in,” Boyack explained.

The school has been putting the event on for 12 years, and it’s been very successful, he said. The engineering field keeps growing in the state and within the university, as the program “has continued to increase,” according to Boyack, to about 3,500 students including graduate and undergraduate students.

Lance Tallman, an entertainment arts and engineering major, participated in a forum made up of current engineering students.

“I think especially my industry is one that’s very stigmatized and stereotyped, so it’s really great to dispel those stereotypes, and also just guide people in the right direction. There’s a lot of information I wish I would’ve known when I applied for college or even got in. And so to be that guy that’s like, ‘Hey, this is how it actually is,’ and for someone to hopefully have a better experience than I did, it would be awesome,” Tallman said.

Ashley Imlay

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