BY INDIANA NASH
NISKAYUNA — Atmosphere was the theme for this year’s GE Engineering Institute for Young
Women, which had a group of 39 students looking a little deeper into the air around them
and at the possibility of heading into a career in the engineering field.
In its fifth year, the Institute was led by Niskayuna science teacher Paul Scott along with
several other Niskayuna teachers and volunteers from GE Global Research.
Over a five-day span, the students worked on various experiments and projects at Niskayuna
High School, spending the last day at GE.
“My favorite was the first day because we got to make these hot air balloons and test them
out!” said Rachel Wheeler.
Led by Niskayuna teachers Michael Sogoian and Steven Wolfort on the first day of the Institute, students learned about air density and created their own paper mache hot air balloons.
“Mine had a hole in it but I was able to patch it up fairly easily,” Wheeler said of her hot
air balloon. “But they were really hard to make!”
Later on in the day, students went outdoors and tested their creations out.
“They definitely worked. We had four of them make it up to the school roof and get stuck,”
This is his fifth year helping to organize the program, and Scott said that over the years
he’s begun to see the difference it can make.
“Research shows that girls have a tendency to let a boy who might be more loud answer
questions aloud in the classroom. Research has also shown that boys tend to just want the
answers to the questions … but girls want to know what the benefit is to society,” Scott said.
“It’s not just science for the sake of doing science, which isn’t always great,” Scott said.
This year, to encourage students to become more involved and excited about science, each
day of the Institute Scott and the other teachers gave students the freedom to come up
with their own experiments.
“On Tuesday, we were talking about UV rays and testing out sunscreen. … At the end of the
experiment that we were doing, we had the students come up with their own experiments.
Some students tested the sunscreen’s’ effectiveness by mixing a bunch of the types together, others tested out how water-resistant certain sunscreen was,” Scott said.
He hopes that this freedom will give students more of an interest and investment into science and solutions to problems that will ultimately improve the world.
But the Institute has a few other focuses besides science.
It also incorporates art, as a part of Niskayuna’s focus on STEAM — science, technology,
engineering, arts, math.
Vicki Walliman and Melissa Leach, both Niskayuna art teachers, led the art day of the program, which allowed the students to add a bit of color to their experiment.
“We were throwing around a lot of ideas before we came up with this one,” Leach said.
Leach and Walliman had the students create koinobori kites out of ripstop nylon, fabric
tape and aluminum.
The kites are a sort of wind sock that is carp-shaped. Students designed their kites on paper and carefully worked to cut and piece together the body throughout the fourth day of the Institute.
On the last day of the camp, the students took a trip to the Global Research campus.
There they examined virtual reality equipment that GE is working on incorporating into
the manufacturing side of their business.
One such program was Tilt Brush, a program designed by Google to allow users to paint
and draw in a 3-D space.
Students were also shown how circuits, sonograms, and thermal imaging works by a
few GE engineers who had volunteered.
Toward the end of their day at Global Research, students were also able to sit down
with a panel of six female GE engineers and ask any sort of questions they wanted.
Some were curious about the day-to-day activities that the engineers do, others were
more interested in how the engineer’s career path.
GE spokesman Todd Alhart said the company likes to encourage the scientists of the
future with programs like the Engineering Institute.
The smiles and laughs of the young women as they tried out Tilt Brush or spoke with the
volunteer engineers revealed that the program was more than just encouraging — it
helps students to see that the atmosphere of the engineering field is ripe for more
female engineers and that the career path can easily be more than a cloudy dream.