Summer 2012 Exploring Engineering Design course for high school women

We have having  a great time doing engineering here at Sweet Briar this summer.  We have 22 high school women here on campus from all over the United States, including from New Hampshire, Utah, Texas, Georgia, Florida, and of course Virginia.

The young women are working on two significant design projects, designing and building a drawing machine and designing and building a seed de-sheller that would be appropriate as tool to to increase food production in the developing world.  As usual, the students have some great ideas and seem to be very engaged.

We know things are going well when our tables start to look like this:


As part of the introduction to the event I did Sunday evening I made a slide outlining our philosophy for these explore engineering events.  I’ve put the main points here:

1)  Engaging and challenging projects that support creative thinking are a great way to learn

2)  We strongly encourage you to take stuff apart, play, experiment, brainstorm, investigate, and just plain try out what you think might be interesting

3)  Not EVERYTHING will work out perfectly, that is ok

4)  We support you!

5)  We give you time to work on your projects

6)  In addition to your new knowledge and skills, the point of this course is for your team to CREATE technology based artifacts of your design that do something that you find interesting (useful, compelling, etc.)

We are looking forward to a great rest of the week.  Wednesday is often the day designs really start to come together. Check back soon.



Spring 2012 explore engineering event for high school women

We just hosted our latest Explore Engineering weekend for young women in high school.  We had a great time, as usual.  This time around, the participants made low cost speakers out of magnets, wire, and cups.  They then turned all sorts of stuff in the lab into a speaker.  Students also made the “worlds most useless machine” with some added creativity.  The high school women also got a chance to hear all about the important role that engineers play in society.

Special thanks to all the SBC students that were involved, Caroline, Lindsay, Amanda, Kate, and Kiera!!!  They were awesome!!!








latest project in intro to engineering design> pinball machine

I’ve talked in this blog about the number of projects that our students work on in the Margaret Jones Wyllie’45 Engineering Program here at Sweet Briar.

In our course for first year students, ENGR110, faculty member Bethany Brinkman gets the students designing early in the course with the cardboard boat race project.  The project they are working on currently is the design and construction of a working pinball machine.  The short project combines engineering skills relevant to mechanical and electrical engineering.    Students are also encouraged to be creative in their design.  The students did a neat job, as usual.  And of course, I was jealous that I wasn’t working on the project.

We’ve put together a quick video about project here…


SBC engineers visit new Navy submarine California

Our students had a fantastic opportunity recently to visit the  California, the Navy’s newest nuclear submarine (commissioned a few days after their visit).  Bethany Brinkman, engineering instructor, took a small group of students to Norfolk for the tour October.  Sounds like the students had a great time getting to tour inside the sub.

The Navy also did a nice story about the visit, “Engineers Contributing to Submarine Force’s Mission Visit Navy’s Newest Submarine

SBC first year engineers visit new submarine, California


China blog #3, October 2011

Panda eating lunch

Panda eating lunch

We have now arrived in Shanghai, our last stop of our trip.

We flew from Xian to Chongqing several days ago.  China is amazing in so many ways.  What has really struck me is when we see a new town and are told “this is only a small town, it has 4 million people…” or something like this.

In Chongqing, we went to the zoo.  Our timing was perfect, they had just put food out for the pandas!

From Chongqing, we boarded our cruise ship on the Yangtze River.  The cruise was spectacular.  It was a very nice combination of natural beauty and relaxation.  I was excited to use apple facetime to show my wife the gorges in real time as we sailed (thanks Steve Jobs).  Near the end of the cruise we saw the Three Gorges power plant, the largest in the world (yes, amazing again).  When the cruise ended we flew from Yichang to Shanghai, a short 1.5 hour flight.   We are excited to see Shanghai for the next couple of days.


SBC in Xian, China













China blog #2, October 2011

Nine dragon panel, Forbidden City, Beijing

We had several fantastic days in Beijing.

This morning, we flew to Xian, home of the famous Terra-cotta warriors.  The scope of the place was amazing.  The largest pit of the 3 sites is larger than several (very large) aircraft hangers.  Some 7,000 warriors are in the area.

More photos soon.




SBC group dancing in park (to Christmas songs...), Beijing

SBC crew in Forbidden City, Beijing



















Me, Terra-cotta warriors pit 1, Xian, China


China Blog #1, October 2011

I’ve now been in China for several days with a group of Sweet Briar alumnae, friends, and parents.  It has been a fantastic trip so far.  China is really quite amazing.

It is a great group of folks on the tour.  I gave a talk a couple of nights ago about the engineering program.  I really enjoy getting to talk with alums about the program, especially alums that haven’t heard much about what we are up to.

About the trip, yes, the flight takes a long time.  Yes, I watched three movies before the flight was even half way through.  But, hey, I’m half way around the world!

More soon!





more on abet accreditation, and me on tv

We are still very excited about our BS in engineering science being accredited by ABET.  We got interviewed by WSET13 about this.  See here:

engineering program receives ABET accreditation!

We are extremely please to announce that the BS in Engineering Science has been accredited by ABET!

Here is our press release:

Wyllie Engineering Receives ABET Accreditation

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sweet Briar College’s Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program has received accreditation for its engineering science degree program from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

ABET Inc. is the recognized accreditor for college and university programs in applied science, computing, engineering and technology. Accreditation is a voluntary peer-review process that evaluates curriculum, faculty, facilities and institutional support to ensure the program meets the quality standards established by the specified profession.

“Becoming an ABET-accredited program is a huge step forward for Sweet Briar engineering,” said director Hank Yochum.

Yochum, who guided the program through the ABET review once it graduated its first class and became eligible for accreditation in 2009, says the endorsement lets employers, graduate schools and prospective students know they can trust the quality of the education. In some cases, it is a requirement for employment or licensure.

“We are eager for our students to enjoy the increased employment opportunities associated with graduating from an ABET-accredited degree program,” he said. “While our graduates have done well with jobs and graduate school placement, this will certainly open new doors to them.”

Accreditation also creates a mechanism to continually assess and improve the program.

“This is great news for both Sweet Briar and the region,” said Bob Bailey, executive director of the Lynchburg, Va.-based Center for Advanced Research and Engineering, which partners with area colleges and universities to keep high-wage industries thriving in Virginia’s Region 2000.

“We have a continuing need for scientists and engineers in our core industry cluster of wireless communications, nuclear energy and advanced manufacturing. Announcements like this tell us that the region is expanding its capability to produce these kinds of graduates,” Bailey said.

The Bachelor of Science degree in engineering science at Sweet Briar is multidisciplinary, with emphasis on mechanical and electrical engineering. Providing students opportunities to work on design projects that help real people is a cornerstone of the curriculum. It is one of two ABET-accredited degree programs at a women’s college in the country.

“Sweet Briar is proud to be addressing the regional and national need for engineers,” said Jo Ellen Parker, president of the College. “We graduate liberally educated engineers who acquire excellent technical skills along with a broad education that teaches them to think critically and communicate effectively, preparing them to become leaders in the engineering profession.”

Yochum also reiterated the need to encourage more women to become engineers, because they bring a different approach to the discipline. “It’s important for society that more women and other underrepresented groups join the field so that we get multiple perspectives to dealing with complex societal issues,” he said.


Story on 2011 Summer Explore course

The Sweet Briar media, marketing, and communications office just posted a nice story about our Explore Engineering summer course that just finished up.

Click here for the story.