Female civil engineering students work to create outreach program

Jessica Johnson

The College of Engineering has welcomed a new student group to campus.

Civil Ladies is a diverse female club making a splash in the college by teaming up with the American Society of Civil Engineers to secure a grant to develop an energy-related outreach program.

Civil Ladies is reaching out to third and fourth graders across the state, posing the question, “How do wind turbines work?”

The club has successfully reached children in Farley, Council Bluffs and Ames, hoping to keep building their resume with new schools next semester to continue reaching other students.

The program consists of four different stations helping children identify the different aspects of a wind turbine. Proper demonstrations will engage children’s thoughts in engineering, sustainability, renewable energy and how to keep it going.

The first demonstration is the geo-tech station, which highlights the turbines’ foundation. The demonstration shows how water weakens soil and why a good, deep foundation is important to a turbine’s success.

Next up for discussion is the electrical and mechanical side of the turbine.

“We have a model set up that they can actually blow on a blade and a volt radar then measures the ‘wind,'” said Samantha Spiering, senior in civil engineering. “Then we show them the path it takes for the energy to get to their house. This illustration helps a student understand how they use energy and why energy is important to them.”

The third station demonstrates the turbine’s center structure. Children will learn why the tower for the wind turbine is a cylinder, what materials are used to construct turbines and how the blade shape helps catch wind gusts.

“We give them a piece of balsa wood and tell them to try and break it, so it will snap in half showing the difference in properties,” said Jessica Heine, graduate in civil engineering.

The final stop of the display is transportation and construction. In this station students get to race to see who can build a turbine the fastest.

“We try to give them the idea of just how big the blade is,” said Allison Machtemes, graduate in civil engineering. “They know how big a minivan is so we tell them it is eight of those which equal two semis, which equal one semi with an extended bed to fit just one blade on it.”

The groups’ efforts show all process phases from delivery to foundation to the tower being constructed.

Sustainability is a big part of the program, giving the children facts and word search worksheets, which they can take home to show friends and family. Teachers are given PDFs and a model so they can reproduce the activities in upcoming years.

Civil Ladies targeted third and fourth graders because of a high interest to learn and understanding larger concepts.

“It is cool to see their eyes get big and just sit down. The teachers get surprised that they sat down for us,” Heine said.

“We wanted to give more of an impact than just about wind turbine energy, we wanted them to understand and to think that maybe I can go into engineering when I grow up,” said Rachel Franz, senior in civil engineering and ASCE outreach chairwoman.