Build Like a Girl

On Feb. 20, girls from two local schools teamed up at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science to build bridges and help shatter the glass ceiling.

Two all-girl teams—the Four E’s and the Excellent Engineers—made up of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade girls from The Hockaday School and St. Philips School and Community Center participated in a bridge-building challenge in the Perot lobby. The teams were tasked with constructing a bridge from upcycled materials in just 20 minutes, and the structure able to sustain the most weight would be crowned the winner of the first-ever Bridge-Building Engineering Challenge.

The event was part of the fifth annual Engineers Week at the Perot Museum, a week full of robotics, low-tech engineering and STEM activities. The challenge was inspired in part by Dream Big 3D, the Jeff Bridges-narrated documentary that’s returned to the Perot after a successful run last year.

The documentary stars Dr. Menzer Pehlivan—at just 13 years old, Pehlivan experienced the tragic 1999 earthquake in her native Turkey, a 37-second event that left 17,000 dead and over 300,000 homeless. Because of this natural disaster, Pehlivan dedicated her life to geotechnical engineering with a focus on earthquake engineering.

Now based in Seattle, Pehlivan aims to construct safe buildings and prevent natural disasters from devastating global communities. In addition to her engineering work, Pehlivan serves as a role model to students across the world, spreading the message that anything can be achieved through hard work, dedication and passion.

“I’m hoping these little girls will find inspiration to do whatever they want to do to change the world,” said Pehlivan at the event. “And if they were to choose [a field] in technology, science, engineering or math, they should feel that they are enough for it. They are no less than anybody else.”

The Perot Museum team connected with Pehlivan’s dedication to inspiring the next generation to pursue STEM careers—and making it fun. “The single biggest predictor of that career choice is how much you like science between the ages of 6 years old and 11 years old,” said Perot CEO Linda Abraham-Silver in her opening remarks.

To the girls in attendance, she continued, “We are really committed to bringing you activities, events and programs that are going to inspire you moving forward because we need you. We need you to be our STEM future workforce, here in Dallas, in the region and for the country as well.”

The importance of positive role models like Pehlivan cannot be stressed enough—especially for girls interested in historically male-dominated STEM fields. Lila Noack, a fifth-grader at Hockaday, said it was a book about female scientists that first sparked her interest in engineering. “I read the whole book and it really inspired me. I thought, ‘I could be one of these people, I could do something, I could change the world.’ I would love to grow up and change the world, make new creations and help people’s lives.”

Jadyn Livings, a St. Philips sixth-grader, was excited to translate her childhood passion for creation into a technical skill. “I love building stuff,” she shared. “As a kid I was always playing with Legos.”

Each team in the bridge-building competition was composed of girls from each school. “I was nervous because I didn’t know any of them, and I met them and they were really nice and fun to work with,” said Caroline Cohen, a fifth-grader at Hockaday, before joking, “Sometimes you get sick of your friends!”

And forget any inkling that school pride would keep these girls from forming bonds. Hockaday student Paloma Duarte shared, “To get to meet new people and get new ideas and work together in different ways. [To share] different perspectives. That’s what engineering is, right? It’s changing things and making new ideas.” Classmate Anika Kapoor expressed a similar sentiment. “I love to build things and be creative. To do it with so many other people was fun, because we all had different ideas and we got to work them all together in our bridge.”

Livings, a member of the victorious Excellent Engineers team, felt inspired by the collaboration as well. “Being with the students from Hockaday really helped me realize how we are all different and how different ideas can help us learn how to accomplish certain things—like winning,” she said. “I’m glad I had the experience with them.”

More importantly, the St. Philips student left certain in the knowledge that if she sets her mind to it, there’s nothing she cannot accomplish. “The Perot Museum just let me know that girls—we can do anything. Boys, obviously they can do a lot of things, but we can do anything guys can do,” she explained. “That just really helps me see that I can be a biochemist scientist.”

Administrators from both schools saw the impact on their girls. “Students were able to create impressive structures and were beaming with pride at what they accomplished in such a short period of time,” said Tamasha Govan, a math specialist at St. Philips. “Attending the Dream Big premiere solidified this experience—students were able to gain perspective and see how passion drives us to help others and change lives.”

For Jadyn Livings, the message of the day is clear. She had this advice to share for young girls interested in STEM: “Even if you’re a woman, you can do anything!”

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Dream Big 3D will be on view at the Perot Museum through May 24, 2018. Get details and see what else is happening at the museum on our calendar.