Wichita State News
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Girls in grades 4-6 participate in a summer camp hosted by WSU and designed to increase interest in science, technology and engineering.

Summer camp gets young girls involved in engineering

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How do you get young girls interested in science, technology or engineering?

One approach is to hold a summer camp, teach them about engineering and motivate them to see it as a future career.

The Science, Technology and Engineering Professionals (STEP) held a camp June 9-13 for girls in grades 4-6. The camp was hosted by Wichita State’s College of Engineering and Division of Continuing Education.

Eleven counselors, a full-time volunteer and five guest speakers facilitated and led camp activities. Charity Kennedy, assistant director of engineering education, directed the camp.

“Part of the reason my position was created was to allow the College of Engineering to expand outreach programs, including summer camps,” Kennedy said.

Last year’s camp was the product of two female engineering students, Emily Graboski and Kimber Lemon. Because of these women, WSU was able to hold its first engineering summer camp, and Kennedy saw it as a huge success. This summer’s camp doubled in size with 46 campers attending.

“The purpose of the camp is to expose girls to different fields of science, technology and engineering,” Kennedy said.

“Nobody ever told me what an engineer was, let alone that I could actually be one,” said camp counselor Callie Baker. “I feel like being a part of STEP camp allowed me to introduce girls to a career field that they may have never considered.”

Women working in each of those fields and female counselors and educators were brought in to inspire campers. Kennedy hoped that the girls would be able to build a relationship with the women and see them as role models.

Another major objective: to build the girls’ confidence in their math, science and problem-solving skills.

Kennedy thinks many girls struggle to be heard when working on co-ed team activities.

“If their ideas are not heard and utilized, they begin to get the message they are not capable of solving the problems as the boys in their group tend to dominate the group decision-making,” she said.

But, the girls did learn by working in teams.

“They learned there are both advantages and disadvantages to working in groups, but the overall effect is positive and improves the project results,” Kennedy said.

“They had to learn the hard lessons of teamwork and leadership, but I think those are things people struggle with all their life so getting a early start is good,” Baker said.

Some of the activities highlighted by STEP this year were designing and constructing a coin sorter, touring the National Institute for Aviation Research laboratories at WSU, learning about advanced composite materials, and building a small wind turbine and generating electricity with it.

“One of their favorite parts of camp was visiting the Wind Tunnel and Virtual Reality Lab in the NIAR,” Kennedy said. “I heard lots of comments about how ‘cool’ those were.”

The children also enjoyed building what they designed, learning about things they encounter every day and expressing their creativity in their designs.

Kennedy hopes the girls took with them the fact that it is possible to have a career in science, technology or engineering, and that gender does not matter when it comes to ability or compatibility with these careers.

Next summer, Kennedy expects a larger crowd with returning campers.

“We are planning to change the curriculum for the STEP and high school camps each year so we have new activities,” she said.

Also, the division hopes to take some camps on the road to areas where students are not exposed to engineering as a career.

“Dr. Larry Whitman, director of engineering education, feels strongly that hosting summer camps is a key method for recruiting engineers,” Kennedy said.

The College of Engineering will be hosting two more camps this summer: the LEGO Robotics camp for girls and boys entering grades 6-8 and the high school bioengineering camp for young men and women entering grades 9-12.

There is still space available in both camps.

To register now, go to webs.wichita.edu/?u=engineering, click on the Outreach link and download a brochure, or contact Jody Hall, conference coordinator, at jody.hall@wichita.edu or call her at (316) 978-6472.

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Created on Wednesday, June 25, 2008; Last modified on Tuesday, July 08, 2008