by Ryan Quinn
The West Virginia University Institute of Technology is dividing its decade-old Camp STEM to create a version for girls only.
Kimberlyn Gray, a Tech assistant professor of chemical engineering and academic director for the new STEM Summer Academy for Girls, said the camp is a way to attract more women into the STEM career fields of science, technology, engineering and math, where most jobs are still dominated by men.
A 2013 report analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey found that while women’s representation in all STEM fields has increased since the 1970s, they remain “significantly underrepresented” in the two areas that comprise eight out of 10 STEM jobs: engineering and computer occupations.
The report also noted that most of the growth in female STEM employment for women under 40 occurred from 1970 to 1990, and that rate has slowed since then. Since the 1990s, the percentage of women actually declined in computer occupations, which themselves make up about half of all STEM jobs. As of 2011, only about one in four people in STEM careers were women.
West Virginia officials incessantly say the state needs more total college graduates from the STEM majors to boost the state’s economy.
The STEM Summer Academy for Girls, sponsored by Toyota, will run June 28 through July 3 at the Montgomery campus. Tech faculty will teach incoming or current high school girls about chemical engineering, electrical engineering, computer programming, biology, forensics, robotics and other subjects.
Female Tech students majoring in STEM fields will be camp counselors, helping participants with projects and talking with them about their college and career goals.
“They’re living in our residence halls, they’re eating in our cafeteria, they’re also getting a little bit of a chance to see what a college experience is like,” Gray said.
Campers will get to tour the Toyota engine and transmission factory in Buffalo, create things like radio transmitters with circuitry, design robots that they’ll race through obstacle courses and hear from successful women in STEM fields. Gray said research has shown that students are more likely to join fields where they have mentors.
“They’ll have a chance to meet engineers in the state who have already done the things they’re thinking about doing,” she said.
The campers will choose two courses for in-depth study but will take classes in various other areas, giving them a broad experience of the STEM fields while, hopefully, helping them discover what specific career they want to pursue.
“We had a girl a couple years ago at Camp STEM who thought she wanted to go into civil engineering, and then fell in love with the classes in electrical engineering,” Gray said.
Camp STEM – which will continue June 21-26 this summer – is co-ed, but Gray said she believes some female students will be more comfortable in a girls-only program. She also said the STEM Academy for Girls will base projects on what female Camp STEM participants in the past have enjoyed most, like a biomedical engineering class on shoe design dealing with how different footwear fits different needs, such as basketball player’s shoes protecting his or her knees from injury.
She said Camp STEM had about 70 participants last year, and this year it will contain about 40 while the girls’ program will accept 30 students. The full cost – including meals and lodging on Tech’s campus – is $350 a person, but need-based scholarship money is available to allow at least half of the participants in both camps to attend either for free or for only $125.
Gray didn’t have information last week on how many girls have applied. The deadline is April 15. Students can apply online at www.wvutech.edu/girlsinstem, and they need to submit a copy of their transcripts, a list of their extracurricular activities and a recommendation from a teacher, counselor or principal.
Students can apply to Camp STEM at campstem.wvutech.edu.
Gray said the new girls-only camp is connected to increasing outreach from Tech’s female faculty and students to younger women and girls to urge them to join scientific fields. Tech spokeswoman Jen Wood Cunningham said seven of the school’s Leonard C. Nelson College of Engineering and Science 38 faculty are women.
In the fall, those female faculty formed the Association for Women Engineers, Scientists Or Mathematicians Empowerment, or AWESOME, a student organization that has done outreach in K-12 schools in partnership with the Girl Scouts of America and on its own.
“Just going out and being examples,” Gray said ”... Of engineers that are actually out there and doing things.”