Helping hands: WIMS reaches to change perception of materials science and engineering field

Members of Women in Materials Science (WIMS) are reaching out to students of all ages to educate them about the field and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University.

Led by faculty advisor and materials science and engineering professor Dr. Svetlana Sukhishvili, WIMS has made a name for itself with its outreach activities introducing elementary and middle school students to the wonders of science, and in particular, materials science and engineering.

WIMS Open House

Victoria Albright, president of WIMS and doctoral student in the department, is thrilled to help fellow members provide opportunities for younger peers to learn more about the materials science and engineering field.

“These fields are often displayed as very challenging, which tends to scare students away,” Albright said. “I want to share my love of science with everyone so that they can too be excited by it.

“We have read several studies that say when children are young, both girls and boys enjoy science, but as they get older, the girls tend to turn away from it due to feeling like they are not good enough or that it is a ‘boy’s’ subject,” Albright said. “I hope that by demonstrating fun experiments, we can show everyone that a career in science and engineering is possible for them.”

Their work with these students aligns with the mission of the organization, to encourage women to pursue studies in materials science and careers in STEM fields while promoting a community atmosphere among students and faculty. 

To accomplish this mission, the group hosts and participates in various outreach opportunities on and off campus. These include Aggieland Saturday where they reach prospective undergraduate students, demonstrations to Girl Scout troops at the Society of Women Engineer’s STEMfest and Rock Prairie Elementary School’s Discovery Night.

“For the event at Rock Prairie Elementary, Raman Hlushko wowed the children with a large variety of experiments,” Albright said. “We also had other members showing off the magic of soap repelling dye in milk and expanding polyurethane foams.”

They also hosted the first-annual materials science and engineering mini-conference during National Engineering Week to educate undergraduate students who have not yet chosen their area of study.

“By hosting our mini-conference, we aimed to offer undergraduate students a chance to practice their networking skills and educate undergraduate students about the opportunities that materials science and engineering offers them,” Albright said. “Many students do not know what materials science and engineering is and we are trying to bridge this knowledge gap.”

Additionally, WIMS has established a relationship to introduce the field of materials science and engineering to middle school students at Allen Academy, a private school in Bryan, Texas, where Albright and fellow graduate students, Timothy Brown, Natalie Benner and Hanna Hlushko worked with Stephanie Hanover, a science teacher at the school.

WIMS at Rock Prairie Elementary

“Allen Academy is thrilled to have WIMS in our classrooms working with our students to learn more about material sciences and engineering,” said Hanover. “They showed our students not only what materials sciences is all about, but through awesome hands-on experiences on how it can make a difference in our world.”

“We are so glad that WIMS was able to reach out to a local school and hope that this partnership can continue for many years to come,” Albright said. “Serving the students of Allen Academy, in my mind, is one of our biggest accomplishments.”

The graduate students have taught sixth and eighth grade students about the three different types of metals and plan to return in April to teach seventh grade students about metals and polymers.

WIMS has redefined the mission of student organizations, from traditionally focusing on women’s issues, to a new type of women’s organization whose mission is defined much broader and includes revolutionizing and building an inclusive and diverse departmental culture.

“This organization has already become the nucleus for many departmental outreach, cultural, organizational and recruitment events,” Sukhishvili said. “I am sure that its impact on the departmental culture will further increase as the department grows to new heights.”