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“If girls have the interest and the desire, there should be nothing stopping them from becoming successful engineers,” says UIC engineering student Jillian Economy (BS ’17), who volunteers at the Arnett C. Lines Elementary School girls’ engineering club in Barrington, Illinois.20150227-jillian2

The club, started by third grade teacher Sarah Giunchedi in September 2014, introduces grade school students to STEM-related topics through accessible, hands-on activities. They’ve made catapults, constructed towers out of spaghetti and marshmallows, and learned about kinetic and potential energy with a loop-and-marble demonstration. “We’re covering simple concepts—some they may have been introduced to before—but connecting them with technical vocabulary,” says Economy.

Having something like this when she was growing up would have been helpful, Economy notes. “As a kid, I didn’t think it was proper for girls to enjoy learning math and science.” While she focused on ballet dancing and violin lessons, she was still drawn to their more technical aspects. “I wanted to know why the violin was crafted the way it was, how certain sounds happen, and why your teeth rattle if you play out of tune next to a person playing in tune.”

Encouraged in seventh grade by her female math teacher, Economy found the confidence to begin taking the subjects that intrigued her most. Now, she’s exactly where she wants to be: pursuing an industrial engineering degree.

“I love how engineering is forward moving. There’s always something you can do to make something better,” Economy says. She’s taken that philosophy into her mentoring role at Arnett C. Lines School, where she is passionate about inspiring more girls to bring their talents to the engineering field. “I think the club is a great way to give them an equal chance, a space where they be free to explore their interests and be whatever they want to be.”

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