Girls go hands-on with public transportation planning
WTS International aims to get girls involved in math and science before high school.
Published: June 5, 2013 06:17PM
Updated: June 5, 2013 06:17PM
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Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Students take a tour of the Sugar House Streetcar line . Professionals from the Northern Utah Chapter of Women’s Transportation Seminar welcomed girls from Northwest Middle School and Salt Lake Center for Science Education to introduce the students to the variety of careers in the transportation sector, including engineering, environmental, archaeology, urban planning, outreach and communications fields.

About 50 Salt Lake City girls learned that planning public transportation takes a lot of work.

The students from Northwest Middle School and the Salt Lake Center for Science Education, a charter school in the Salt Lake City School District, sat at rectangular tables designing the Sugar House streetcar line between 900 East and McClelland Avenue. Local experts from the transportation industry gave them hints and explained how to mark the streetcar track, pedestrian trail and other elements on the map with colored markers.

The exercise was part of the May 22 Transportation You Youth Summit. The event was put on by the local chapter of WTS International, a group aiming to advance women in the transportation industry, and the U.S. Department of Transportation. It was part of a nationwide initiative to encourage girls to become involved in math and science as well as increase the number of women in the transportation industry.

“My favorite part was the hands-on, being able to see [what] it’s like to be able to design the network,” said Victoria Fairall, a seventh-grader at SLCSE.

The girls followed the streetcar’s development from the environmental impact statement through safety and maintenance after the streetcar’s opening. The girls also heard from women in the transportation industry and went for a tour of the streetcar line.

Gussie Scott, a seventh-grader at SLCSE, was surprised by “how much planning goes into something we think is simple, like a bus. You just ride the bus and think it’s nothing, but it takes a lot more than what it seems to be.”

Tracy Harty, president of the northern Utah chapter of WTS, said the organization’s goal is to interest girls in math and science before high school, when they need to take important math and science classes.

“Teachers like it because they could never do this in the classroom,” Harty said.

Pamela Pedersen, assistant principal at Northwest Middle School, sat with a table of girls from her school.

“I keep reinforcing that these are women who are independent and have a family and earn a good living,” Pedersen said.

Pedersen said some girls do not become involved in math and science careers because they are not interested or they have not had an engaging teacher, but that is not the biggest reason.

“Mostly I think it’s just they don’t have any examples, they don’t have a broad example of different jobs that women do,” she said. “I’ve thought a long time about different ways to get girls involved and understanding careers [that] could be open to them that maybe they’ve never seen before, and this is a rich field.”

Grace Ferguson, a seventh-grader at SLCSE, said she may be interested in a career in transportation.

“There are lots of areas that men traditionally work in that women can work in just the same, like transportation,” Grace said. “I liked learning about the jobs, the things people do and what they do every single day. That’s a lot of work.”

Mike Christensen, a master’s student in city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, helped the girls plan the streetcar line and said they were focused and excited.

“It’s good to give these kids exposure to different options of what they can do in the future,” Christensen said.

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