Teaching & Learning

USU Society of Women Engineers Continues Outreach Efforts With Diné Students

By Sydney Dahle |

The USU Society of Women Engineers spent spring break visiting rural communities in Southern Utah to host engineering activities for grades three to five. In total, they worked with over 600 students.

SWE visited school districts in Sanpete County and San Juan County, which includes the Navajo Nation. The goal was to show off how important the different types of engineering are in daily life. In San Juan, the group also shared how Diné teachings and beliefs could play into engineering. Activities included lessons about renewable energy and presentations on the U.S. Department of Energy’s involvement in extending the power grid throughout the Navajo Nation. The group also showcased a company founded by indigenous scientists and engineers that focuses on the power grid.

In addition to SWE, the North Sanpete School District, the Central Utah Educational Services and the North Sanpete STEM club hosted additional activities. They held a mobile planetarium, built structures out of toothpicks and marshmallows and catapults, learned about binary and tried new foods with the miracle berry, a tablet that changes sour foods into sweet.

Elise Barton is SWE’s vice president of outreach and planned a majority of the project herself. This year was a big step up from 2022, which was the first time the organization hosted the project.

“We love sharing what we do and why we do it,” Barton said. “It’s so much fun to share our love for the STEM field and see kids realize how much engineering they already do in their daily lives.”

Barton, along with 11 other volunteers, also visited the Navajo Nation in Southern Utah, which is the largest Native American tribe in North America. They worked with a Diné engineer from Boeing named Latoya Benally who helped SWE teach students how integrated the culture is with engineering as a career.

One of those lessons focused around the hogan, a Navajo structure used for religious practices. It is common for families practicing traditional religion in Diné tribes to have these structures at home, and all the schools in the district have one outside as well. The structure is built with nature in mind to respect the environment around them.

In the future, Barton hopes to continue working with rural communities to show off just how important and common engineering is in the world. She hopes to expand it statewide and work with other USU campuses.

“It was a really great experience,” she said. “We learned a lot from the kids. I am already looking forward to next year.”


Writer: Sydney Dahle, sydney.dahle@usu.edu, 435-797-7512

Contact: Elise Barton, outreach.ususwe@gmail.com

Caption 1: The USU SWE chapter visited the North Sanpete School District and the Navajo Nation to share hands-on engineering activities for grades 3-5.

Caption 2: Activities included building structures out of toothpicks and marshmallows, catapults, learning binary code and much more.


Sydney Dahle
Public Relations Specialist
College of Engineering


Elise Barton

Elizabeth Vargis
Biological Engineering
Associate Professor


Engineering 316stories Diversity & Inclusion 211stories Women 175stories STEM 114stories

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