The challenge: build an electrical circuit using only a coat hanger, a piece of wire, aluminum foil, a block of wood and two AA batteries. The engineers: Three sophomore girls from Desert View High School in Tucson, Arizona. Their coach: Raytheon engineer Karen Christensen.
The project is part of a Raytheon program that teaches young women the basics of engineering and encourages them to seek careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Throughout the school year, women from Raytheon Missile Systems visit four days a week, working with the girls on projects including the construction of a miniature solar house and the design of a basic alarm system. Other areas of study include computer programming and physics.
"STEM-related careers are often viewed by girls as being boring, but this class incorporates hands-on activities that bring engineering, math and science to life," Christensen said.
The program, called "Imagine Your STEM Future," shows the students what it’s like to work at Raytheon and explains the skills that technical careers require. It also allows them to ask questions they might hesitate to ask in a regular math class.
"Working with the mentors has strengthened my desire to go into an engineering field," sophomore Zcheecid Aguirre said. "It seems like a really cool life."
Desert View principal Jose Gastellum said the program makes tech careers less intimidating.
"It sparks an interest in our young ladies, and they realize that pursuing a career in the area of STEM is attainable," he said.
The program is a collaborative project among Raytheon, the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona and Desert View High School in the Sunnyside School District.
Students in the program also lead their own projects and take part in networking events that include guest speakers and other mentors. They also take field trips to DeVry University and Pima Community College.
"Raytheon mentors are committed to these young women and will stand beside them on their journey into the STEM professional world," said Debbie Rich, CEO of Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona.
The program has more than doubled since it started in 2012 with a group of 25 freshman girls. This year, 60 students – freshmen, sophomores and juniors – are participating.
Aguirre said working with a professional engineer has been fun, but for her, the program is about something much bigger. She will be the first in her family to attend college.
The program, she said, "opens our minds and it opens doors."