KAHULUI - Deanelle "Dee" Symonds, who has doctorates in both mechanical and ocean engineering, says the excitement and creativity of engineering are "like being in a box of Pop Rocks all the time."
Symonds, a researcher at Trex Enterprises, was trying to instill her feelings about the profession in young girls on "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day," which is part of Engineering Week.
First, she told Temoani Keahi, a 7th-grader at Iao Intermediate School, and Angelee Watson, an 8th-grader at Kalama Intermediate, to do the math. "That's the universal language," she said.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Trex senior staff scientist Mike Engelmann conducts an experiment with laser light as (from right) Lokelani Intermediate School parent-community facilitator Karen Jamison, Angelee Watson of Kalama Intermediate and Temoani Keahi of Iao School inspect how the beam is redirected by a prism Thursday morning in Kahului.
It will take you anywhere. In her case, the Maui girl (Maui High, class of 1998) has traveled to five continents, with somebody else buying the tickets.
She told Temoani and Angelee that one-fifth of top executives of American corporations have engineering degrees, and engineers can be found as musicians, artists and politicians. It's a world of possibilities.
It was a world she never thought about, she said, until an inspiring Maui High chemistry teacher, Ed Ginoza (now retired), offered her a deal.
"I was thinking of San Diego State, or maybe UH, someplace I could surf," Symonds said. Ginoza told her he would allow her to pursue independent study her senior year, if she would apply to East Coast schools.
Independent study was right down her alley. Symonds said as a girl she kept a notebook of things: "Wouldn't it be great if I could . . ."
One of her ideas was a stapler that wouldn't hurt if you accidentally stapled your finger. That one is still waiting, but she has invented a fish finder so sensitive that it, if put in the water in Kahului Bay, could detect a school of fish in Hana.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is using it to track fish stocks in the Atlantic.
Temoani asked her: "Will the things you do here go other places?"
Absolutely, said Symonds. That is one of the beauties of engineering. The solutions engineers come up with apply everywhere. She quoted the engineer Theo van Karman: "Engineers create the world that never was."
Like youngsters in schools today, Symonds got a taste of engineering early, with a contest to make a tiny car powered by a mousetrap. As part of Thursday's demonstration, she gave Temoani and Angelee a bag of parts and a challenge: make a car big enough for a mouse that could go at least 10 feet per minute - and do it in two hours. (This was a repeat of a contest that Symonds had entered when she was at Maui High School.)
Temoani had already tried a similar engineering problem. She and a partner came in third in building a structure from marshmallows and (uncooked) spaghetti. Theirs supported about 30 to 40 pennies before collapsing. Angelee said she hadn't yet entered that kind of competition but she "likes experiments. I like looking through the microscope."
Symonds said she went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology intending to study aerospace engineering. At an open house for freshmen, the Maui girl was attracted to the ocean engineering department.
"The ocean is my backyard," she said. Plus, the ocean engineers had good pupu.
After that, she pursued a double track, concentrating on sustainable techniques. She encouraged Temoani and Angelee to think what they could do already. "Maybe you could measure the carbon footprint of your school."
Symonds' current research project is to develop a wave energy harvester the "size of a backpack." There's a preliminary model under study, but Symonds warned the girls that engineering requires persistence.
"It's a great thing to be encouraged to dream my dream," she told them.
* Harry Eagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.