Society of Women Engineers Fixes Lamps, Clothes, Jewelry and Bicycles
By Katharine Webster
Breanne Eriksen, a first-year plastics engineering major, didn’t take any sewing or shop classes at Hingham High School.
“I took art classes instead,” she says.
But as a member of the campus undergraduate chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), she’s learning how to sew, repair furniture and more. That’s because SWE hosted a Repair Café for the campus and community last month.
All the repair services were free, although under the international Repair Café model, people who needed parts were asked to pay for them if they could, so that the enterprise becomes self-sustaining. The SWE chapter got a startup grant from a university fund that supports sustainability efforts on campus, including reducing the amount of waste going into landfills.
While planning and hosting the cafe, the students learned a lot of useful skills themselves. When things got slow at the clothing repair station, Psychology Prof. Sarah Kuhn taught Eriksen and other students how to hand-sew and embroider patches for denim jackets, using colorful fabric scraps. At a pre-café workshop, Eriksen and a half-dozen other students learned how to safely take apart a microwave oven and a broken lamp, then diagnose and troubleshoot problems.
Veronica Brown, a sophomore mechanical engineering major and co-chair of SWE’s philanthropy committee, headed up the Repair Café effort, which took months of planning. She was mentored by co-chair Ashley Nguyen, a junior mechanical engineering major, and Linda Barrington, service-learning coordinator in the Francis College of Engineering.
“Learning how to plan an event from the ground up and running the café really improved my organizational skills,” Brown says.
“Honestly, seeing the process of writing a grant and what a professional document looks like – how to condense everything – has already helped me on lab reports,” Brown says.
On the day itself, she taught some other students how to use her sewing machine. Brown and her cousin are into cosplay: She makes the costumes, and her cousin makes the props.
“We’re really drawn to helping people and solving real-world problems,” says Hannah Bagley, a biomedical engineering major who headed up publicity for the Repair Café. “We’re trying to figure out what people in Lowell need.”