YULA Girls and Shalhevet Host Young Engineers Conference and Award Ceremony


Bracha Miriam Turner

On Tuesday, May 17th, YULA Girls High School hosted the annual West Coast CIJE Young Engineers Conference and award ceremony for participating all-girls schools. This was the third consecutive year they did so. The following day, Shalhevet hosted the corresponding ceremony for boys.

CIJE stands for the Center for Initiative in Jewish Education, a nonprofit organization that provides academic support in the form of curricula and funding for participating schools. Besides investing in teacher training, the program provides a rigorous supplementary curriculum in engineering and coding.  The program focuses on teaching 9th and 10th graders the basics of electrical and mechanical engineering, coding, and design.  The program’s national director, Dr. Jane Willoughby, was once involved in bioengineering, and the program also encourages participants to think creatively in order to solve mechanical issues in the medical world.

The focus of the curriculum is to allow students to explore methods of trial and error to design an actual project that has the potential to bring benefit to the world. Afterwards, CIJE transfers top projects to sourcers who have accepted students’ designs in the past.

“This is what engineers focus on in industry,” noted Dr. Adrian Krag, CIJE’s West Coast director, who travels from school to school to assist and direct teachers. Not only do students have to identify a problem and create a solution; they also must execute, building and testing their project. The program is a rigorous one but it helps that they produce something concrete.

Krag remarked, “[A] lot of students do well if you let them build something.”

An inquiry-based atmosphere of learning offers students the independence to own and explore their individual ideas. The students each displayed microprocessor boards. In the final stage of the program, they must also comprehend 3D modeling language and practice with it. The students worked in small groups and competed against their classmates. A panel of judges comprised by teachers and volunteers awarded a prize to one team of students from each school.

Amongst the participating girls schools were YULA Girls, Valley Torah Girls, Ohel Sara, and Meira Academy of Palo Alto. Amongst the participating boys and co-ed schools (with separate presentations and ceremonies) were Shalhevet, YULA Boys, Valley Torah Boys, De Toledo from West Hills, Harkham-GAON Academy, Mesivta Birkas Yitzchok, and Tarbut V’Torah from Irvine.

“The student are engaged, excited, and in charge of what they’re doing” remarked Willoughby. The co-ed schools reportedly did not have as many female participants, which is something CIJE hopes to rectify in the future.

Rabbi Abraham Lieberman, dean of YULA Girls School, persistently insisted that CIJE start a West Coast division and is heavily invested in the program. He emphasized the importance of being technologically adept in a future workforce and, subsequently, invested tremendous financial resources, technical support, advice and everything else that was needed into making the program a success. YULA Girls School also took students to Israel to meet with scientists, allowing the kids to be mentored and inspired by them.

“CIJE takes our school to a higher level,” Rabbi Lieberman declared with pride.

At the culmination of the conference, Dr. Willoughby remarked, “Until we get here, they can’t envision what we’re doing.” Some problems that the students tackled in their projects were water safety and conservation, burglary systems, medical contraptions, and sleep solutions. The students’ innovations were remarkably creative, and each one more intriguing than the next.