Enhancing Engineering Pathways to host camp for girls interested in STEM-related careers

Battle Bots!NIU’s Enhancing Engineering Pathways (NIU-EEP) aims to establish a sustainable pathway for girls into the field of engineering.

To create and strengthen the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) pipeline, another year of NIU-EEP’s free summer camp will take place from June 11 through June 15. The application is available online.

Launched in 2008, and funded and supported by the Motorola Solutions Foundation, the summer camp has focuses on “going green” in various ways over the past four years.

Girls this year will explore renewable energy sources such as wind and solar in particular. They will learn about the wind farm technology, where they design wind turbines and see how much power can be generated by a wind farm.

Participants have the opportunity to visit the Motorola Innovation Center every year for inside look into the factory and also to visit the Challenger Learning Center in Woodstock.

“Some of the skills necessary for being a good engineer are problem-solving, critical thinking, organization, team-building  and multi-tasking,” said Suma Rajashankar, NIU-EEP program director and CEET adjunct faculty.

“The NIU-EEP program provides a variety of hands-on opportunities to enhance these skills, thereby enabling them to choose science and engineering careers and serve as positive role models to society,” she added. “All this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the funding from Motorola Solutions Foundation.”

Although the program is geared toward middle schools girls, EEP has worked to create a mentoring chain. High school students mentor middle school students, college students mentor the high school students, and NIU professors mentor the college students.

EEP members began by recruiting new high school students for the program but, after four years, the girls now work their way up the system from middle school to become mentors.

Girls attend an NIU-Enhancing Engineering Pathways event.

Parents who enroll their middle school children in the NIU-EEP program are encouraged by the progress of their children in the camp.

“Without the hands-on activities, the mentoring pipeline, the encouraging and nurturing environment, and the relevant curriculum of the NIU-EEP program last year and this year, my 12-year-old daughter would not be as aware of the what, why and how of engineering or be as interested in considering a future career in engineering,” said the parent of a seventh-grade participant in the NIU-EEP program.

The program grew by more than 200 percent over the past four years, and now boasts more than 100 female participants on two levels: beginner, where girls work with basic hands-on experiments to introduce them to the field; and advanced, where they work with more complicated projects, including building and programming their own robots. A student may enter the advanced level after two years of participating in the program.

From a high school student’s perspective, being involved in NIU-EEP has given them the tools they need to succeed in the academic world.

Many of the girls have competed at the state level science fair. One student was selected as the only female to compete in the state CAD competition. Every girl who graduated from the NIU-EEP program has chosen the STEM field as their major.

“When I first joined the NIU-EEP program as a middle schooler, I never imagined how much it would transform my life and influence my decisions for the future; I have learned to embrace science all the more and have become a stronger person because of it,” said Varsha Ganapathy, Waubonsie Valley High School junior and NIU-EEP participant for the past four years. “For college students, participation in the NIU-EEP outreach program has given them many opportunities in the professional field after graduation.”

NIU-EEP logoWest Aurora High School freshman Bethany McCormick calls NIU-EEP  “truly a great hands-on program.”

“Through my three years as a participant and one year as a mentor, I have been inspired with a love for this,” McCormick said, “and I am leaning toward a possible degree in Aerospace Engineering.”

The summer camp is the culmination of months of work beginning October and culminating in June.

The Enhancing Engineering Pathways program begins with engineering workshops held at NIU-Naperville on alternating Saturdays that allow middle and high school students to engage in activities surrounding the STEM fields. Here, the girls can work on building basic circuits, creating soft LED bracelets, designing electronic game boards, playing with squishy circuits, programming video games, exploring bridges and robots, as well as work on many other projects.

Encouraging women to join the STEM fields is a major initiative of the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, Dean Promod Vorha said.

“Enhancing Engineering Pathways is one way that we can inspire girls to explore these areas of study,” Vohra said. “The summer camp program is a great way to engage young girls in a variety of hands-on activities. Through the EEP program, we hope to strengthen the pipeline of women going into STEM fields.”

“With so few media images of girls and women as smart and successful, programs like NIU-EEP are essential to help girls know that they are both,” said Eileen H. Gelblat, an Alcatel-Lucent electrical engineer and frequent guest speaker for the Society of Women Engineers.

“Programs like these gives them the self-confidence they need to overcome the negative images, to set lofty goals, and to know that they can reach them. There are too few women in the STEM fields, and I am counting on programs like these to infuse balance into the work environment.”

For more information about the camp, contact Rajashankar at (815) 753-9966 or rajashankar@niu.edu.

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