Just try it: supportive setting inspires young engineering researchers

High school students get real-life research experience with WISEST

Thien Nguyen - 16 August 2019

(Edmonton) Finding your future can be tricky. It takes research to make the big decisions about what educational path you want to follow.

Sarah McClelland and Samantha Polege spent their summer working in Engineering at Alberta research labs, discovering ways engineers can have an impact in medicine.

McClelland and Polege were encouraged to apply to the Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) summer program by their chemistry and physics teachers. While nervous about their placements, the two were determined to take full advantage of the opportunity.

"I wanted to do something big for my summer," said McClelland.

The two worked together on biomechanics under mechanical engineering professors Kajsa Duke and Lindsay Westover and graduate student Maha Ead.

McClelland and Polege found themselves in the unfamiliar setting of a state-of-the art research lab.

They spent their days focusing on digitizing CT scans of pelvic bone fractures, creating 3-D models of the bones and using scans to investigate and chart the symmetry of pubic bones-providing information that would be useful for surgeons.

Both students found themselves working in a supportive environment.

"It's nice to be around like-minded people at this program," said McClelland.

Polege said the guidance and help provided in the lab made her feel like she belonged.

"You're with people whose goals are similar to yours," she said.

As the summer placements wrapped up, the two have expanded their knowledge and experiences in ways they couldn't have imagined.

"Research is more interdisciplinary than I'd expected. My research is mostly in engineering but it is also related to medical sciences and biology," said Polege. "All in all, I gained a stronger curiosity for engineering than I already had, and now I have more initiative to continue to seek out more research opportunities in the future."

McClelland says the experience of conducting research and creating a research poster and doing a presentation on their work was inspiring.

Going to back their final year of high school this fall, both want to tell students who are unsure about engineering that the best way to learn about it is to do it.

"Just try it," said Polege. "Engineering, like other STEM fields, is a broad category with significant overlap with other subjects. If you love creating, problem solving and innovation, engineering could be right for you."