How can a high school student gain an understanding of what engineering is?

I was asked recently by a parent “How can my daughter figure out if engineering might be right for her?”  Since I didn’t know what engineering was when I was in high school, I thought this was an excellent question.

Resources do exist out there.  Some schools in large school districts offer engineering courses so students can get an idea of what engineering involves.  However, not all students have access to such programs and have to look for information and opportunities elsewhere.  Below are a few resources available for students, teachers and parents.

FIRST Robotics, BEST Robotics, and First Lego League teams – Being part of a robotics team is one of the best ways to get the “design” experience.  The teams are presented a challenge and they have to design and build a robot in a set number of weeks that performs a specific task.  It’s a lot of fun and the kids learn about the troubleshooting and redesign processes of engineering.  Students have the freedom to explore their ideas and be creative without the fear associated with failing.  In many engineering projects it takes several testing and redesigning iterations before finding something that works.  So it’s okay if your design doesn’t work the first time.  The robotics competitions give kids a chance to do some hands-on work and they may pick up a few new skills, too.  Even teams whose robot never works right still have fun and learn a lot.

Girl Scouts programs – Girl Scouts offers a number of STEM-related activities.  Engineering societies and engineering corporations often partner with scouts to offer special events that allow students to explore engineering.  Check out your local council to see what programs are available.

Society of Women Engineers – SWE sponsors many outreach events geared towards students.  You can check their Aspire website for schedules and for resources.  Most major cities have local sections that can be contacted as resources or for more information.

E-Week – E-week is a week each February devoted to engineering.  Events are held across the country at museums, engineering corporations, and schools.  There are also webcasts of events for those who cannot attend local programs.  One of the goals of the event is to educate parents, students, and teachers about engineering and share enthusiasm for the field.  If you missed the event, look up past webcasts and information on the official website:

Websites – Numerous websites have popped up with resources geared towards female students.  Here are a few:,,,  These offer girls a chance to read about real-life female engineers, many of them young women.