Members of Colorado State University’s Society of Women Engineers student organization are joining forces with fourth, fifth and sixth-grade girls at the eighth annual snow sled design and building contest on March 1. The competition, including a downhill sled race, is the culmination of a month-long education outreach project that introduces young women to the importance of engineering and inspires girls to pursue education and careers in the field.
"The girls have a great time designing, building and racing their sleds," said Omnia El-Hakim, professor of mechanical engineering at Colorado State and SWE advisor. "The students learn what engineering is and how much fun and rewarding it can be."
More than 40 girls from the Poudre School District’s Bauder, Beattie, Putnam and Tavelli Elementary Schools will participate in this year’s contest, which will take place from 10 a.m.-noon at 11711 Rist Canyon Road in Bellvue, northwest of Fort Collins. The competition will be followed by a lunch provided to the girls by SWE.
Since January, Colorado State engineering students have worked with local grade school girls to design and build their sleds, introducing students to the engineering process. Society of Women Engineers members first taught students how to use 3-D modeling software to create sled designs. The college volunteers then worked with student groups after school to build the sleds using wood, plastic sheets, inflatable rafts, foam, skis, rope, plastic pipe and a variety of other materials. While having fun, the girls learned about friction, aerodynamics, strength, stiffness and additional basic engineering concepts.
On Saturday, sleds will be judged on creativity of design, appearance, speed, steering and braking. The contest will be judged by professional engineers. A grand prize will be given to the team with the best overall design and additional prizes will be awarded to teams with the most points in each of the following categories: fastest time down the alpine course, most maneuverable on the slalom course and the safest overall sled.
"The contest is meant to inspire girls to pursue engineering, a field in which men greatly outnumber women," said El-Hakim. "It is important that girls learn at an early age that science and engineering can be fun and that women can excel in the field."
The Society of Women Engineers raised about $3,000 from local businesses and individuals to buy this year’s sled materials and prizes for contest participants.
To get to the snow sled competition, follow Highway 287 north to 52E (also called Rist Canyon Road). Follow Rist Canyon Road for approximately eight miles. 11711 Rist Canyon Road is located on the left, just before the firehouse.