- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - Johns Hill Magnet School students Lydia Knuffman and Claire Peters and other seventh-grade girls were given an assignment: assemble a set of gears, wheels and other pieces creating a mechanism that moved freely.

The project was facilitated by Rich Eirhart, a Caterpillar manufacturing engineer.

“I saw it like a puzzle,” Peters said. “But those are easier because they are made for kids. This was harder.”

Even though they had help from engineers and other professionals, for some reason, the assembly did not work.

Eirhart and more than 40 other Decatur Caterpillar employees volunteered during the annual “Introduce a Girl to STEM Day.” About 80 seventh-grade girls from Decatur public schools visited the facility Thursday to learn more about their potential in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

The girls met many professionals during their visit to the facility. More than 15 divisions from the Decatur Caterpillar volunteered.

According to Kendall Briscoe, facility communications supervisor for Caterpillar, the employees often come together at these types of events.

“We want to be able to expose the students to all of those things,” she said. “They understand the importance of these young girls seeing and being exposed to engineering and what that can do for this facility. We want these kids in 10 years to be in our hiring force.”

This was the third year for the event, which is sponsored by Caterpillar’s employer resource group WIN, or Women’s Initiative Network.

“It focuses on getting women more involved in engineering and making sure we are promoting diversity in all that we do,” said Kevin Wood, CPI Blackbelt for Motor Graders Caterpillar.

According to Wood, the organizations are concentrating on younger students early in their educational development.

“Once you get into high school, your decisions on what you are going to do are already played out in the courses you elect to take in high school,” he said.

The students began the day with workshops utilizing science, technology and engineering common with the manufacturing facility. The girls were split into group to build mechanisms, assemble towers and create LED Halloween cards. Throughout the day, the girls were discussed the careers the experienced.

“We get an engaged group of girls that enjoy the day” Wood said. “Hopefully they learn something new, maybe see something cool and then take off with it.”

Eirhart said his focus is to get the students interested in manufacturing and engineering. “In the lab we are focusing on innovation,” he said. “They can really see what it can do.”

He has found the subject of math and science can be a tough sell, especially to girls. To get them excited, Eirhart focuses on creativity. He said the younger they are, the more creative they can be. His projects allow the girls to build using their creative side.

“It captures their imagination and gets them more involved,” he said. “That’s what it is all about, making things, things that never existed before.

Eirhart’s project not only allowed the students to build a mechanism but find the problem when it didn’t work.

Knuffman and Peters quickly found they were given a faulty project.

“It was just rolling weird and skipping everything,” Knuffman said.

With Eirhart’s help the group learned a simple solution.

“To make it work better, one of the gears needed to be bigger,” Peters said.

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/2ey1H3q

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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