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Local Dads and Their Daughters Have an Incredible Time Doing Science at DADDS

Seven-year-old Cassie and her dad show off the paper airplane they built.

April 13, 2018

On a fun, daddy-daughter date that was not just relational, but also educational, around 30 or so local fathers and their daughters showed up the Mechanical Engineering Lab on Saturday, April 7th, for SWE’s DADDS (Dads and Daughters Do Science) event. The event was geared towards having 1st–3rd grade girls bond with their dads while exploring science and engineering via fun, hands-on activities and challenges. The long-term goal was to pique the young girls’ interest in science and to encourage them that—like the Incredibles (the theme of the event) and supported by their real-life heroes, their dads—they too could someday do amazing feats in science and engineering.

Sponsored by SWE (the Illinois’ chapter of the Society of Women Engineers), about 20–25 SWE members, female engineering students from a variety of disciplines, volunteered for DADDS. Their goal? To expose the 29 fathers and 31 daughters (yes, two dads brought two daughters!) to engineering, but also to serve as role models, conveying to the young participants that, “Yes, girls can do science and engineering!”

DADDS co-chairs Tatiana Shaffer (left) and Abby Cohen.

According to Abby Cohen, a Civil & Environmental Engineering sophomore and one of the DADDS co-chairs, since the girls are so young, the goal wasn’t to “really explain exactly what engineering is to them,” she admits. She says they hoped to “just to get them more interested in math and science activities.” She adds they wanted to make sure STEM is one of the girls’ interests when they're younger, so that as they get older, they’ll hopefully stay interested and want to learn more about it. Another goal of DADDS is to provide female role models, so the young girls “see older girls doing something like math and science so that they'll see it as an example.”

So why a SWE event that focuses on having the dads come with them? Cohen says it’s to get their fathers involved from the beginning and encourage them to foster their daughters’ interest in math and science. “It'll make sure the dads follow through after this event and still make sure that they're doing math and science activities at home and they're interested in school, since their dads are one of the biggest influences on them growing up.”

A DADDS particpant plays with the slime she and her dad made.

Part of the morning’s agenda was to introduce the girls to five different engineering disciplines. According to DADDS co-chair, Tatiana Shaffer, her hope for the outreach was not just to “show girls they can have fun with science,” but to “show them all different disciplines of engineering.”

Shaffer knows from personal experience how important understanding what engineering really is can be. She shares an anecdote about when her parents first suggested that she become an engineer. “I started crying,” she recalls, “because I thought they were talking about being a train engineer, and I didn't want to do that.”

So Shaffer’s goal for the event was to give girls a taste of the diversity and real-world applications of engineering. “We're trying to show kids that engineers do plenty of things, and introduce that to them early. We're trying to show them that science goes a lot more than just sitting in class, writing down assignments, and going through tests. It's applicable every day, and you can do a lot of fun crafts with it.”

So the girls and their dads rotated through hands-on activities related to: Chemical Engineering (making and playing with Slime), Mechanical Engineering (Exploding Popsicle Sticks, constructed in a lattice design held together by tension), Aerospace Engineering (Paper Airplanes, which the father-daughter teams designed then launched), Materials Engineering (Rainbow Jars, during which the girls learned that the density of various liquids would cause them to stratify, creating fun rainbow-like layers), and Electrical Engineering (during which the girls used pens with a special kind of ink that conducts electricity better than graphite or lead pens to draw a circuit on paper, then attach a battery to light up the LEDs.)

A young participant shows off her handiwork made at the Weaving Popsicle Sticks station.

Following the five rotations, the girls learned more about chemical engineering during the Elephant Toothpaste demos, created by combining a type of acid, food coloring, and dish soap, which caused an interesting-shaped reaction (voilà! elephant toothpaste!)

Then, after the pizza lunch, the girls learned more about Chemical Engineering while making their dessert: Ice Cream. Instead of the usual—Liquid Nitrogen Ice cream—it was done a bag and showed the girls the different chemical reactions that can happen when you use different ingredients. So the ingredients (milk, sugar, and vanilla) were poured into one bag which was sealed then placed in a larger ziplock bag that contained ice and kosher salt, causing a chemical reaction and freezing the ice cream. “That's cool, because the kids get to eat it and it's really fun,” admits Tatiana.

The final activity was building balloon cars out of various materials. The girls and their dads built the shafts and body of the car, attached the provided wheels, then used a balloon to act as the force that drove the car.

A DADDS participant and her dad look at the rainbow jar they made at the Materials Engineering activity.

Why would 25+ busy engineering students dedicate a Saturday out of their busy schedules to spend time with young girls and their dads?

“Being able to show kids that science can be fun is one of my favorite things,” admits Tatiana Shaffer. The DADDS co-chair says she got involved because she loves outreach events, and “bringing in people of any age and showing them how great engineering can be. I love looking out and seeing all the dads interacting with their daughters. And they're all learning something new and having fun doing science experiments—things that are going to be really helpful, but also having a lot of fun.”

A junior double majoring in two seemingly disparate fields, Mechanical Engineering and Psychology, Shaffer chose to double major because, “I love both of them.” She reports that the deeper she gets into bio mechanics, the more helpful she’s finding her psychology background.

A DADDS participant and her father make airplanes in the Aerospace Engineering activity.

Cohen, reports taking a leadership role in DADDS because when she was involved in SWE outreach last year, it was definitely her favorite. “The girls are so cute because they're so young and sweet.” So she agreed to co-chair, indicating that “DADDS would be really fun because I love volunteering with the girls.”

According to Cohen, she finds seeing girls having a really great time doing a math and science activity to be really rewarding “Because I always felt like I was encouraged to NOT like math and science,” she admits.

Cohen’s ultimate goal, of course, is for them to end up in STEM careers. “So this is something I really want younger girls to be more interested in, so when they get older, they want to be engineers and want to be scientists and want to do things like that when they get older. So it's really rewarding when you see a girl be like, ‘Oh, this slime activity was so cool; I loved it! I want to do something like this when I grow up!’ Instead of something typical for a girl, they might be more interested in STEM things.”

Whether the girls end up as engineers or in STEM, they definitely had fun doing the various activities, and each had a favorite.

One of two sets of siblings at DADDS 2018, along with their dad, make slime at the Chemical Engineering table.

Eight-year-old Aubrey’s favorite was “Probably the slime one!” Aubrey’s dad brought her to DADDS “because Aubrey has enjoyed science, and it's a great opportunity to see different types of experiments that she's seen in school.”

Does Aubrey’s dad think she’ll be an engineer? “I don't know,” he admits. “She does like putting things together and learning about them, but she also likes destroying them. So she might be someone that figures out how to destroy things. There's a science to that too!”

A DADDS participant and her dad have a great time bonding while makeing a rainbow jar.

One of the girls who could possibly end up in engineering was seven-year-old Cassie, whose dad thinks she might become an Aerospace Engineer. Her dad brought her to DADDS because he was looking for “Something different, something exciting we can do together, and maybe learn a couple things.”

Eight-year-old Ella’s dad brought her to the event just for fun. "My wife found out about it,” he admits, “and said we should go. I definitely wanted the opportunity to take her out. We thought it'd be fun, and she's having a good time so far.”

Is Ella going to be an engineer when she grows up? “I don't know. Are you?” he asks Ella. “Yes!” is her definitive response.

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

More: K-6 Outreach, SWE, Women in STEM, 2018

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

DADDS participants watch as "elephant toothpaste" is formed from a chemical reaction.

Above: A little girl and her dad weave popsicle sticks at the Mechanical Science and Engineering activity.

Below: A DADDS participant enjoys the ice cream she and her dad made.