Voices of Hope and Inspiration from Metro Engineering Girls

At Metro Achievement Center for girls in Chicago, a brand new summer engineering apprenticeship for girls launched this year. For six weeks, 15 high school students were introduced to engineering principles, processes, and practices. The course focused on gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to complete basic hands-on projects drawn from various areas of engineering. For example, the girls were challenged to design and build homes with functional electrical currents, using their learned project management skills in a timely manner. Four days each week were spent on hands-on project work, culminating in the final project presentation at summer's end. One day each week was spent in field trips, featuring career guest speakers.

Program elements included:
- Focus on critical workplace soft and hard skills 
- Collaborative student-directed learning 
- Critical thinking and decision-making skills 
- Weekly career field trips, university field trips specific to the apprenticeship 
- Career speakers from professionals in the apprenticeship field 
- Civic education around social justice issues found in the specific career field

The apprenticeship was called the Tellabs Engineering Apprenticeship, sponsored by The Tellabs Foundation and hosted at Metro Achievement Center for girls, a place for after-school and summer enrichment for at-risk girls from low-income communities. Here are some of our favorite thoughts from the apprentices and their instructors.


Age: 16, neighborhood: Pilsen, Chicago, IL (Student Apprentice)

What inspired you to pursue engineering?
Last year during Metro's College Orientation Program, Boeing's Chief Technology Officer Dr. John Tracy visited, and he said, "I do this because I want to help people. We build planes. We work as a team, and we are family-oriented." I really liked that. During high school chemistry, I learned that water in Bangladesh isn't potable. They get cholera. And the water fountains have arsenic and gives the people poisoning. I learned that UV light doesn't cost much to kill the bacteria in water. I want to help solve problems that can help people.

How was the Apprenticeship experience?
So when I came here, I wanted to try it out. We built houses with LED light. I figured, if UV light can kill the bacteria, I'll try this. We used a waterproof battery. It worked! We tested the water. It had bacteria before. After applying the light, the bacteria was gone! When I started to learn what engineering was, and the more people told us that this improves people's lives, I got more and more interested. Now, I'd like to pursue civil engineering.

What's your favorite part about Metro? What has it meant to you?
My favorite part? That's hard! When I look back, I've met many great people coming here since 6th grade. I laughed a lot, and don't want to miss a day at Metro. I love coming here. 


Age: 15, neighborhood: Bridgeport, Chicago, IL (Student Apprentice)

What did you learn at the Apprenticeship? 
We learned about organizational skills, electricity, and building: We built houses and learned the Critical Path Method in order to understand how to manage and schedule project tasks. I learned about electricity in school, but was a bit rushed, so here I had a chance to revisit it and get a better understanding.

What do you think of Engineering now? 
Engineering always seemed so complicated. Through this Apprenticeship, it doesn't seem as difficult as I originally imagined. Now I consider Engineering as a possible career choice I never would have thought of.

What comes to mind when you think of your experience at Metro?
I receive guidance from advisors who talk to me without judging.  It's a place to go and have new experiences I've never had before, like cooking and drama. Coming from an Asian family, I was expected to be a doctor, but here I have the opportunity to explore different careers, having been here for two summers already. 
 I'm taking all the stuff I've learned with me.


Age: 19, neighborhood: Little Village, Chicago, (Metro alumna/Apprenticeship T.A.)

How were you exposed to engineering?
My younger brother had all these Legos and Star Wars Bionicals. I was the one who put them together. Early in middle school, I loved making things move, building and putting things together. I'm a graduating senior, and now I will be the first in my family to go to college. I'm an incoming engineer major at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

How is it being a T.A. for the Engineering Apprenticeship at Metro for girls? 
I never expected the tables to be turned. Now I want to tell people there is hope. I came from the inner city. We were not expected to go to high school or college. I want to tell them, ‘I'm a girl. I'm Latina. I can do anything you can do. It doesn't matter where you come from, your income, except your own will.' It's incredible being able to be a role model and example of a Metro girl. I can say, ‘I relate to you.' And they say, ‘You did it. How?' I show them real examples of how to get financial aid and scholarships, what to do, what not to do - that Metro girls can do it. And here at this apprenticeship, can draw out their strengths and help them along.


College Orientation Program Director, Metro Achievement Center

We want to encourage women to develop an interest in STEM, and we don't want girls from underserved communities to be underrepresented in the field. They have just as much talent.""They learned about project management, civil and electrical engineering, with hands-on practical experience. They even built and tested a Mars Rovers model with the help of Boeing.


(Guest Career Speaker) Senior Project Accounting Manager, Lend Lease Construction, Inc.

Metro is doing a tremendous job by taking an initiative and adding an Engineering Apprenticeship into their curriculum.  Incorporating practical exercises and projects, like building a mock-up house, is a fun way to teach the girls essential project management skills. The girls were excited to share with me their lessons learned, successes, challenges and solutions they were able to find.  I was also impressed with how dedicated and committed the girls were and I am glad that organizations like Metro are there to support young talents and help them achieve their dreams and goals.

My key advice that I offered to the girls about ‘How to Get There' as a woman in engineering: Construction/Project Management field is two-fold: on the one hand, one must know technical/engineering side of the business - and that is what universities teach students.  On the other hand, this field heavily relies on success of a team, and thus soft-skills play as critical a role as knowing how to read drawings.  This is especially important for a woman working in a predominantly male field.  

Also, the global business environment makes teamwork very different. One team may not be located in the same office or even the same country, but in different continents, in different time zones, and everyone may be speaking different languages.  Working in this virtual environment requires a very different skill-set than working with people face to face.  And last but not least - love what you do and press on.  Never give up.  


(Apprenticeship instructor)

How did you get into engineering? 
I studied in Spain, and originally thought I would get into law. At the same time, I loved math, physics, and solving problems. I liked the idea of working with a lot of people. So during the recession, I thought exploring engineering would be a good opportunity to learn something new. It's a great degree, and there's an engineering position in every company. After this summer, I'm moving to Dallas to work as an engineer, as a project manager, building roads for a construction company.

What was the highlight of the Apprenticeship for you?
I loved working with the girls. They were very smart and grasped difficult concepts quickly. They learned scheduling and timing, estimating what materials cost, and how important it is to have a sense of care and planning. Finally, they had to learn how to work as a team, finding solutions despite often having different opinions.

Why did you choose to work at Metro to teach this Apprenticeship?
Metro has a spirit for changing the world. They help others get the opportunity to go to college and make dreams come true. It's the perfect environment to learn and meet new people while learning virtues at the same time.

 Carolina Avila, Metro alumna and Teaching Assistant with Patti Carro, Instructor   Tellabs Engineering Apprenticeship 2014

 Carolina Avila, Metro alumna and Teaching Assistant with Patti Carro, Instructor
Tellabs Engineering Apprenticeship 2014