Last month, four Duke Engage alumni placed third in the Global Grand Challenges Summit in Beijing. Bianca Bracht, Christine Schindler, Melina Smith, and “Dutch” Taylor Waanders worked with two other Duke students (current and former) to create Girls Engineering Change, a nonprofit organization that aims to educate young girls about engineering in order to close the gender gap in STEM fields.
The summit, sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering, included a start-up pitch competition, during which team members presented the organization’s mission. During the pitch, the group focused on how Girls Engineering Change helps grant middle school and high school girls the tools necessary to combat certain challenges, including some of the 14 Grand Challenges addressed during the summit’s conference portion.
In the summer of 2013, Bracht, Smith, and Schindler traveled to Tanzania through DukeEngage to tackle health issues surrounding progression in medical technology and proper staff training for equipment. Dutch Waanders participated in a 2012 trip to Mombasa, where he worked as a Pratt Fellow in the medical center. The DukeEngage alumni all graduated last spring, and have since dedicated a significant amount of time to engineering education outreach through Girls Engineering Change.
The team’s third-place finish in the competition yielded a $5,000 prize to be used towards growth of the organization. They were also able to enjoy a number of speeches from professionals also working to confront Grand Challenges on a global scale. Some of the most prevalent topics included climate change and health care. The group noted the value of connecting with students and professionals from all over the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and China.
Girls Engineering Change has seen major expansion since its beginning at Duke University. So far, GEC has encouraged over 300 girls to explore the engineering field. The organization has allowed them to construct tangible products intended to benefit developing nations, such as the ones these group members encountered during their DukeEngage experiences.