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Engineering Playdate: Role Models in STEM
Kira Loshin never saw her gender as an obstacle to becoming an engineer. From a young age she knew that she wanted her work to result in tangible creations that she could point to when she drove down the street. This commenced as an interest in architecture, but through exposure to the University of Maryland campus and by participating in programs for high schoolers like Terp Young Scholars, Loshin found her love for engineering.
Still, she was not surprised by the lack of other young women in attendance. Growing up she rarely encountered programs that encouraged girls to explore their STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) interests. Rather than let this discourage her, it ignited Loshin’s passion to make a change.
As a sophomore mechanical engineering and computer science double major, Loshin has channeled this drive into Engineering Playdate (EP), a program led by UMD students for girls ages 8–12 who want to become engineers. Coined a “hardware hackathon” by EP’s board because of its hackathon-like format of using base knowledge to problem-solve, the program challenges participants to solve common engineering problems in four hours—but with a twist.
“Last spring we had a Moana theme,” says Loshin. “The girls had to get a boat across a kiddie pool without touching it. They had to use different methods: some girls used magnets, or they could blow it, create a sail, one girl even used a fan.”
Loshin says that EP not only provides role models for girls interested in STEM, but also inspires them to become role models themselves in the future. Though the program only began in Spring 2017 (as the founder’s sophomore capstone project for an honor’s class), the board can already see its impact; some participants even return for additional sessions each semester.
One of Loshin’s favorite parts of the program is being able to help young girls through the creative and analytical processes of basic engineering and to encourage them to pursue whatever their heart desires—just like Loshin’s role model did for her. She credits her love for teaching and nurturing others to her father, David Loshin, who for years encouraged his daughter to pursue her STEM interests, even when she thought she wasn’t “good or smart enough.” Without him as her biggest inspiration, she doubts if she would be as confident as in completing her harrowing double major as she is today.
Her second favorite part of EP? Collaborating with her board and the mentors that volunteer for each playdate. Each semester Loshin is honored to be surrounded by women just like her—UMD students looking to be the representation they wish they had seen as children. Working with future women engineers is a constant reminder for Loshin to keep going, and she has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
April 26, 2019