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Aerospace engineers inspire middle school students in East Granby

EAST GRANBY --  At East Granby Middle School, students were joined by a special guest who knows a thing or two about what it takes to build.

She doesn’t just know how to build a quality airplane engine, but also quite a career, and one that defies demographics.

Jonna Gerken is a manager of manufacturing engineering for Pratt & Whitney, and is also the President of the Society of Women Engineers. She was joined by a dozen other engineers from Pratt & Whitney and their parent company, UTC, to give these students a hands-on experience.

“Our goal today is to expose our middle school students to the excitement of engineering, to show them all the different types of engineers there are, all the great things that we do, and how we help change the world,” Jonna said.

Kim Sullivan, UTC Program Director, says, “This is the perfect age to get them interested in math, technology and science.”

And the students were loving it. Shannon Collins is a student at East Granby Middle School, and was helping build solar-powered cars that would move along simply by shining a light on them.

She’s no stranger to things like this, and is another example of the apple not falling far from the tree, saying, “I want to be an engineer just like my dad because he works at Magnatech, and I love it there.”

The field of engineering is overwhelmingly male-dominated, with women making up only around 15 percent of working engineers. As Jonna and her colleagues note, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Sullivan said, “It still does not reflect the demographics of our population and until we get there, our work isn’t done.”

The tide is starting to turn, however, with efforts like this from UTC really beginning to show some progress. With many of the stem fields, it’s incredibly rewarding to see your efforts pay off, especially if it involves flying across the country at nearly the speed of sound, using an engine you helped build.

“Every time I get on a plane, I’m reminded about how cool it is what we do," Gerken said.

East Granby Middle School Counselor Kashema Jennings helped set this all up, and said she’s open to more in the future.

“I would love to be able to do other programs like this in the future to bring professionals in to talk to students, to mentor our students, and also bridge that gap between education and career professionals.”