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At Dads 4 Daughters, Father-Daughter Duos Have Fun with STEM

A local dad and his daughter enjoy Dads 4 Daughters.
A local dad and his daughter, who is proudly displaying the fingerprint balloon she made at Dads 4 Daughters.

One local girl and her dad put the finishing touches on their egg-drop machine.
One local girl and her dad put the finishing touches on their egg-drop machine.

December 3, 2019

It was a chance for Daddy to take his little girl on a date that was both fun and educational. So on Saturday, November 16, the Illinois chapter of SWE (the Society of Women in Engineering) hosted Dads 4 Daughters, where 31 father figures (mostly dads, plus a grandfather or two) accompanied 31 girls, ages 5–7 (Kindergarten to second grade) to a great day bonding over STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

In the morning, each girl and her guy rotated through several activities, including paper chromatography (making invisible ink etchings), making a binary bracelet, an Arduino lie detector, and making fingerprint balloons.

Just before lunch, they used a learning-game website, Kahoot, that makes learning fun and engaging. During the activity, girls and their dads participated in a competition to see who could correctly answer the most questions about different STEM-related topics.

Following lunch was the final design activity of the day...an egg-drop contest during which each daddy-daughter team created an apparatus that would hopefully allow their egg to drop unscathed from the second floor to the target area on the first–which was protected by large sheets of brightly colored plastic...just in case. So once the designs were finished, the teams tested their contrivances amidst a chorus of awwww's when it was discovered that someone's egg (which included most of them) had cracked as a resut of its journey, or a less-often-heard chorus of cheers when an egg would successfully drop without cracking. Despite the plethora of cracked eggs at the end, a good time was had by all. 

While the majority of the father figures at Dads 4 Daughters were indeed dads, in a few cases, Grandpa filled in because Dad couldn’t make it. This was the case for one Mahomet grandpa, who shares why he accompanied his granddaughter to the event. “Daddy had to work,” he explains, “and I'm next in line.”

A Mahomet grandfather and his grandaughter enjoying Dads 4 Daughters.
A Mahomet grandfather and his grandaughter enjoying Dads 4 Daughters.

Currently retired for the second time, he originally taught shop/technology in Mahomet before becoming a cook for the university. So since technology was an area he once emphasized, does his granddaughter have any interest in STEM? “Yeah, she does, but she doesn’t know it,” he says. Will he be "pushing" it? While he says no, he does intend to encourage her in that direction.

“Oh, it's great. It's fantastic!” he says regarding the outreach, adding that his granddaughter was enjoying it. In fact, Grandpa hopes that come career time, this early exposure might have an impact on her. “That's right. That's what I feel. She just needs to be interested in all these different areas." He adds that he's hopeful that later on, she’ll be able to make a better choice in terms of her career as a result of events like Dads 4 Daughters.

The two engineering students who served as chairs of Dads 4 Daughters, Toma Solovey, a sophomore in Chemical Engineering, and Abby Hutter, a freshman in Civil Engineering, share why they got involved.

Toma Solovey, a sophomore in Chemical Engineering, and Abby Hutter, a freshman in Civil Engineering.
Abby Hutter, a freshman in Civil Engineering and Toma Solovey, a Chemical Engineering sophomore.

“I really enjoy interacting with the smaller—the younger age group,” says Hutter, who, over the summer, was a counselor at park district camps, which involved leading the kids in crafts and games. She admits that she never had the opportunity to do something like this with her father when she was little. "My dad and I never really interacted in doing STEM stuff, even though he's an engineer. So I would have loved this opportunity.”

So why hold an event like Dads 4 Daughters that's for younger girls? Toma admits: "I just would love for these girls to have that experience with their dads and to get to start STEM activities early." She also acknowledges that their goal in the event was to promote STEM more and, as a result, possibly end up with more female engineers. "That'd be awesome if we could get more girls into engineering," she adds.

Toma also hopes to give some of today's girls an opportunity she didn't have as a youngster. “So when I was little,” Toma explains, “I didn't really have any specific STEM-oriented activities." She reports that while she did science things, she didn't really know what STEM was until freshman year of high school. Thus, she hopes to give some of today's kids a head start on working with STEM.

A young visitor shows off the egg-drop contrivance she and her dad designed. Her egg was one of the few that made it through the test without a crack.
A young visitor shows off the egg-drop contrivance she and her dad, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Simon Rogers, designed. Her egg was one of the few that made it through the test without a crack.

Seven-year-old Ginny and her dad playing the Kahoot website learning game.
Seven-year-old Ginny and her dad playing the Kahoot website learning game.


Riya Dave, a junior in computer science, does the Binary Bracelet activity with a young participant.

“So it's really cool to have them exposed to STEM at an early age,” Toma explains, "so they kind of know that it's a viable career path and that girls can do STEM. And that's something that's very empowering for little girls. I wish I had this kind of thing when I was younger." Toma indicates that while she went to science events at museums and other venues, STEM outreach itself wasn't very widely available when she was a little girl..

Unlike many of the other SWE events, which specifically emphasize the different engineering disciplines so older girls can make educated decisions regarding their careers, Dads 4 Daughters focused on the major areas that comprise STEM as a whole—science, technology, engineering and math.

"So we're focusing more on the basis of what engineers do rather than specific engineering disciplines," Toma explains. So some of the disciplines they emphasized included chemistry (the invisible ink activity), computer science (the binary coding activity), and engineering (the egg-drop design activity). "So we're exposing them to little snippets of the different engineering disciplines. So it's more of a little exploration activity rather than introducing them to specific majors."

Regarding the impact she hopes Dads 4 Daughters was having on both the girls and their fathers, Hutter claims the girls were not only having fun doing STEM, but they were also having conversations with their dads who were promoting STEM, plus interacting with the other girls at the event about STEM.

“That's the thing that I think is best about today, is that they're having fun doing it, and they know that they can have fun. They're having fun doing STEM activities, and they're learning design. They're learning chemistry. They're learning genetics and coding.  And if they're having fun and seeing other girls just like them doing it, they'll keep doing it. And maybe they'll come back next year and hopefully keep studying STEM and having fun doing it."

Of course, another intended impact was that the lttle girls weren't just seeing their peers—girls their own age—doing STEM. They were also seeing much older girls, the female engineering students who served as role models, having fun doing STEM too.

One daddy-daughter duo who had fun at the event was 7-year-old Ginny, who was there with her dad, who teaches economics. Indicating that his daughter is fascinated by robots, and that they love going to the engineering open house, which always has robots, Dad shares why he brought Ginny to Dads 4 Daughters: “And so we thought, well, another engineering activity will be a lot of fun too. And it has been." While Ginny enjoyed making her binary bracelet, which she was wearing, and had also enjoyed the invisible ink activity, she and her dad doubtless enjoyed the Kahoots activity. They had the highest score and won the competition.

But it wasn't just the dads and their daughters who had fun at the event; all of the engineering students who helped with the different activities had fun too. For instance, Riya Dave, a junior in computer science, reports that she got involved with Dads 4 Daughters because when she was younger, her dad played a big role in her life in encouraging her to follow her dreams.

“Obviously, any parent is a really big figure in your life, but my dad and I are super close and he would always be pushing me to do STEM things, even just arts. Anything I wanted to do, he would always back me up. Dads is essentially a full day where a dad and his daughter can have a good time, learn a couple of things—create this special bond through this event. And so I really just wanted to go full circle and help out.”

Plus, she adds that she found it quite rewarding to “just see everyone having a good time. All the experiments that we do are really fun. Honestly, just overall, it's a fun time; I get to see excited kids, so it’s fun.”

A young girl proudly displays the egg she safely dropped from the second story to the first with nary a crack due to the excellent device she and her father designed A young girl proudly displays the egg she safely dropped from the second story to the first with nary a crack due to the excellent device she and her father designed.

Story and photographs by: Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative

More: K-6 Outreach, SWE, Women in STEM, 2019

For additional I-STEM web articles about SWE, see:

A young participant shows the fingerprint balloon she made.
A young participant shows the fingerprint balloon she made.
A youngster shows off her work at the invisible ink activity.
Seven-year-old Ginny shows off her invisible ink project.
A young visitor works on her fingerprint balloon.
A young visitor works on her fingerprint balloon.

A little girl and her dad wait for the results of the question they'd just answered during the Kahoot game.