Monday June 19, 2006

Farming for Engineers

High school students playing with rocket launchers and breaking glass help develop interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

High school students playing with rocket launchers and breaking glass sounds like a formula for trouble, unless it's being done at university-run engineering camps nationwide that help interest youngsters in science, technology, engineering and math.

The number of students obtaining degrees in those areas has fallen despite an increase in college enrollment during the past decade, according to the Government Accountability Office which presented a statement as testimony to the House education committee.

To counter that trend, the University of Dayton offers two camps — the first Pre-Engineering Program (PEP) camp June 23-25 and the 33rd annual Women in Engineering (WIE) camp July 9-14 — to help boost its School of Engineering enrollment.

"Some girls see engineering as this huge mystery and that it's all theoretical. But when you do the experiments and see the real-world applications, the theory comes to life," said past WIE camp participant Monica Fontaine of Nashville, Tenn.

Most of the hands-on activities during the camps, UD organizers say, are not available in high schools. Both camps feature question-and-answer sessions with industry professionals. WIE participants will spend a day in the workplace while PEP camp participants will take an engineering-themed field trip.

PEP camp participants, which come from the program's partner high schools, will have a grasp of engineering when they arrive and will do some of the same things as UD's first-year engineering design students, according to PEP camp coordinator Margie Pinnell.

Partners include: Archbishop Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio; Lehman High School in Sidney, Ohio; Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School; Nolan Catholic High School in Ft. Worth, Texas; and St. John Vianney, Chaminade and St. Mary's high schools in St. Louis.

UD faculty also help build engineering curriculum infrastructure in the partner schools. UD students will work with students on projects and ease any pre-college engineering tension.

The Women in Engineering camp, which costs $400 and covers room, meals and camp events, differs from the PEP camp in the sense that it is more exploratory. Most of the students in the WIE camp are experimenting with educational and career paths as well.

"It helped to see that I could really do this — and that I was good at it — before deciding my major," said past WIE camp participant, Erin McDowell of Albany, Ore. "The innovation modules are really hands-on. You can go home and say, 'I built this, and I can tell you how it works.' There's a sense of accomplishment."

Eleven percent of the WIE camp participants since 1995, including Fontaine and McDowell, have enrolled in UD's School of Engineering.

"Not many people have the opportunity to learn as much information about engineering like I did," said past WIE camp participant Sharde Wilson of East Point, Ga. "It was one of the best opportunities I have ever had."

UD's camp was considered to be the first of its kind and was emulated by other universities, according to WIE camp coordinator Annette Packard.

Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, Illinois, Purdue, Penn State and Maryland are among the universities that hold annual women in engineering camps. The costs range from $100 to $400 and last anywhere from a few days to a week.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Shawn Robinson at 937-229-3391.