Girls Taking STEPS toward Engineering Careers

Impact, Summer 2002 issue

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Engineering has one of the largest gender gaps of any profession. Nationwide, less than nine percent of engineers are women. According to the U.S. Department of Education, while 55 percent of college students are female, women receive only 14 percent of all undergraduate degrees in engineering.

To help bridge the gender gap in high-tech careers, the University of Detroit Mercy, in partnership with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and with a grant from the Ford Motor Company, will host Michigan's first Science, Technology and Engineering Preview Summer Camp for girls (STEPS) this summer.

STEPS is a tuition-free residential camp that provides female 9th and 10th graders with hands-on activities that enable them to experience firsthand what engineers do in various fields of manufacturing, engineering, science and technology. This year at UDM, participants will build a self-guided robot capable of entering areas unfit for humans, a task requiring an understanding of robotic control systems, manufacturing techniques and chemical testing methods.

Campers will also experience everyday UDM student life, living in residence halls, eating meals on campus, attending classes in the engineering classrooms and labs, and learning from UDM professors Jonathan Weaver (Mechanical Engineering), Sandra Yost (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Rob Ross (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Liz Roberts-Kirchhoff (Chemistry and Biochemistry) and Kate Lanigan (Chemistry). Campers will tour Ford Motor Company facilities and interact with Ford employees. There will be time for a variety of recreational activities, including a walking road rally, volleyball games and dinner in Greektown.

STEPS was created in 1997 at the University of Wisconsin at Stout as part of an effort to attract more women to the field of engineering early in their academic careers. The idea is that early exposure to scientific and technical material and activities may lead some girls to choose engineering or science before they get the idea that such careers are only for boys, and before they make prohibitive academic choices. To date, 2,500 young women have participated in STEPS programs.

"STEPS is great hands-on experience that opens up the possibility of engineering or science as careers for girls," notes Yost, who will be teaching a session on sensors. "They stay interested because the program is project-based and they also learn about the background behind why they are doing what they're doing."

Leo Hanifin, Dean of the College of Engineering & Science, sees the program as a great benefit not only to the students, but to the College. "This program reinforces our commitment to offering programs that support diversity--opening doors to help girls see the possibilities for careers in engineering, science and technology."


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