Inspiring young women

June 20, 2016
Holly McKissick

When asked what's in her backpack, Holly McKissick, a recent graduate in biomedical engineering, has a unique reply: "A toothbrush robot," she says.

As president of the U's chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), she uses the easy-to-make robots (they consist of a toothbrush head, a battery, a vibrating cell-phone motor, and some eyeball stickers) as a fun engagement tool at outreach events.

At two events—one in the fall and another in the spring—SWE brings 100 to 150 high-school girls and their families to campus for a day of panel discussions, tours, activities (such as making toothbrush robots), and one-on-one time with female College of Science and Engineering students.

McKissick knows firsthand how influential these events can be; attending an on-campus SWE event when she was in high school was a big factor in her decision to come to the U.

"When I saw the community that SWE had built, I knew I'd have a support network, which was really important to me as a woman going into engineering," she says.

While here, her studies have been challenging, but have opened new avenues of discovery. McKissick says the cross-disciplinary nature of research here was especially inspiring.

"If we're going to solve some of these grand challenges ... it's going to take more than just one specialty," she says.