Saturday, July 23, 2005

Not Your Mother's Summer Camp

At two summer camps sponsored by The University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University, girls are the ones who're designing things and programming computers:
Emma Baker's good at math and science. Always has been. She's thinking about a career in engineering, maybe aerospace engineering, and right now, the Proctorville, Ohio, 16-year-old is in the midst of a weeklong computer science and engineering camp at the University of Cincinnati, where she's building planes and checking out race cars.

One more thing: Emma Baker is a girl.

Her gender is worth mentioning - emphasizing, even - because in this field, it's still unusual. Fact is, girls just aren't that into engineering: According to the National Academy of Engineering, only about 20 percent of engineering degrees in 2004 were earned by women; and among working American engineers, only 9 percent are women.

Fewer girls appear to be getting into the field, too. Despite nationwide efforts such as camps and scholarships that once helped boost the number of female college students studying engineering, the total has dropped in recent years.

To counter the drop, programs continue to pop up across the country: The National Academy of Engineering has created, a Web site that explains jobs in the field and offers biographies of some working women engineers (note: there is no In spring 2004, a coalition of national engineering associations formed the Extraordinary Women Engineers project to study the shortage and find ways to fight it. Four years ago, Ohio State University launched its Future Engineer's Summer Camp for middle-school girls, where participants build hovercraft and learn how to program a robot.

And at UC, which has seen undergraduate female students at its engineering college drop from 17.8 percent in 2001 to 15.3 percent in 2004, officials started a weeklong summer camp for high school girls two years ago.

It's too early to see whether OSU's camp is yielding results at the college level, but its popularity appears to be on the rise. Weaver had to turn away 60 girls who'd applied for the 30 spots at the camp, which runs Aug. 8 to 12. That's 90 applicants, up from 70 last year, all girls who wanted to be part of activities that include building hovercraft from plywood, making concrete and learning about the texture of ice cream.

At UC's camp, participants are enthusiastic about engineering, too, a development that heartens director Julie Burdick. At that camp, which ends today, there is 17-year-old Stacy Vansickle, from Dresden, Ohio, who wants to go into electrical or industrial engineering to find "new, creative ways to do things." And there is Emma Baker, in her pink T-shirt, blond ponytail and hoop earrings, who said she likes to "build stuff." Neither is worried that her future career isn't seen as girly.
When I was a kid, I used to go to summer camp. But my experiences were more like those immortalized here.
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