Despite efforts to attract women to engineering and science careers,
these technical fields still remain elusive and do not appeal to young
girls. While workshops and dedicated outreach efforts in K-12 continue
to target this invisible barrier by introducing young girls to the workplace
and to special math and science projects, the negative perception of
women engineers and scientists is compounded by the "egghead"
stereotype associated with engineering and science in general. Engineers
and scientists are typically known as "geeks" or "nerds"
and are considered lacking in social skills and non-technical interests.
This project, entitled "Nerd Girls," will incorporate a documentary
on women in engineering, one that takes an in-depth look at several
female students' personal lives as they pursue their engineering degrees.
The film will not only present the non-profit, group of volunteer students
performing engineering tasks but will showcase them as models for how
well-rounded, attractive, and intelligent young women can aspire to
The best way to describe the film's intent is a cross between MTV's
"Real World" and PBS' "NOVA." The audience will
witness the challenges the team faces as it attempts to take on a difficult
and complex task for which the members have no experience. Simultaneously,
the audience will get to know the personality of each member of the
team, along with their lifestyles.
Such an approach attempts to capitalize on the popularity of youth-oriented
television shows that depict attractive, popular young people in pursuit
of fame and fortune. "Nerd Girls" will demonstrate that education
is the key to personal success and that engineering education affords
anyone, regardless of gender and socio-economic background, a great
opportunity. In essence, the film will show how the "American dream"
is obtainable through brainpower and determination. [top]
The Team, The Challenge
The engineering team task for the "Nerd Girls" will be to
build a solar car. Tufts University has female engineers who have danced
in the Nutcracker ballet, sang at the Apollo Theater, are award-winning
pianists, and nationally ranked athletes. The mission of this program
is to show a wide audience of young women and young men how successful
these students are as they work together to design and construct an
engineering system. The project will showcase the young women's talents,
diverse backgrounds and engineering skills. The team will build an energy
efficient automobile and will drive it down the East coast, visiting
local communities along the way and sharing their experiences with K-12
educators and students. As well, they will interact with professional
women engineers who will consult on the project.
Another unique aspect of this program will be an effort to attract women
into university teaching and research. The audience will witness interactions
of Dr. Panetta with her team as they work together, travel together
and learn about each other as individuals, beyond their proscribed roles
as teacher and student. [top]
The implementation plan for Nerd Girls has two major components, namely,
the research, design and implementation of the car-building process
and the actual filming of the documentary. Tufts University is known
for its integration of engineering and the humanities across curriculum
boundaries. The Principal Investigators, Karen Panetta and Howard Woolf,
are the co-directors of the university's Multimedia Arts program. This
curricular innovation strives to create learning environments in which
students from engineering and the humanities share their talents on
projects which embody a cross-fertilization of ideas and practices,
one that represents a key direction for the future in the arts, in computed
aided design, and in applications development and use.
Karen Panetta's "Animation for Technical Communications" course
was the first course at Tufts to use animation as a method for communication
and visualization. Within the framework of the course, teams of student
engineers, biologists and musicians stretched their understanding far
beyond the boundaries of their home disciplines while producing animated
simulations, 3D shorts, and educational CD-ROMs.
Taking advantage of the new digital video technologies that became available
in the late 90s, Howard Woolf created Tufts first film and multimedia
production center, called "The Video Lab" Out of this initiative
has come his course, "Making Movies," in which teams of students
from every conceivable discipline undertake a study of film language
while, at the same time, receive training in camera, lighting, audio
and computer-based editing. Students from "Making Movies"
have produced what now numbers as nearly two-dozen documentaries, short
features and experimental films.
Leveraging the successful integration of the Multimedia Arts program
at Tufts, "Nerd Girls" will involve students and faculty,
under Mr. Woolf's supervision, in the filming, scoring, special effects,
and editing of the documentary, while Dr. Panetta will assume responsibility
for the research and implementation of the car building effort, as well
as mentoring the team. [top]