MTM Camp introduces girls to engineering

The College of Engineering Women in Engineering Program (WEP) was the site of the annual Make the Machine (MTM) engineering camp for girls from June 29 - July 3 at Penn State's University Park campus.

The camp offered 60 high school girls from across the country the opportunity to explore a range of engineering careers including bioengineering, and aerospace, mechanical, biological and industrial engineering. Each day, the girls engaged in hands-on team design projects, engineering site visits and interaction with female engineer role models.

"The overarching goal of this outreach project is to provide high school girls with the opportunity to investigate engineering careers through hands-on design projects complemented by career site visits," explained Cheryl Knobloch, WEP associate director.

The camp featured activities such as building an optical microscope and wiring an EKG device (bioengineering), building and launching model rockets (aerospace engineering) and creating unique design innovations for seven prospective clients ranging from Prada to Disneyworld (industrial engineering).

Girls also toured the Penn State Artificial Heart and Cardiovascular laboratories, the Rotorcraft Center of Excellence, the Mushroom Test Demonstration Facility and the Mechatronics Laboratory. Campers observed demonstrations of a surgical simulation device as well as intelligent vehicle systems, both uniquely engineered at Penn State.

One of the vital elements of MTM Camp is the opportunity for girls to interact with female engineer role models. Over the course of the week, campers build relationships with undergraduate engineer mentors, learning about the Penn State students' career experiences.

The undergraduate mentors play a critical role in the camp and many are former participants.

Teri MacTavish, a second-year aerospace engineering graduate student, participated in MTM '03. As a result of the camp, MacTavish enrolled at Penn State the following year and earned her B.S. in aerospace engineering in 2008. As with many former campers, she remained involved with the outreach program as a counselor in subsequent years. This summer MacTavish served as an aerospace engineering instructor.

Erika Reifenstein, an agricultural and bioengineering graduate student, is a first-time counselor and dedicated a week of her summer to the camp.

''I wanted to get involved and share what I love to do with the young girls, in hopes of inspiring them to pursue a career in engineering,'' said Reifenstein.

Taylor Sweeney, a high school junior from Perkasie, Pa., is a first-time MTM participant. She has a strong interest in architectural engineering, and decided to stay for the entire week of camp.

"I am really hoping to gain a better understanding of all different types of engineering," she explained.

In order to augment the diversity and outreach of the camp, Knobloch initiated strategic partnerships with schools in urban areas. Since 2003, MTM Camp has sponsored participation of eight to twelve high school girls from Nueva Esperanza Academy in Philadelphia. The girls and their science teacher, Alessandra Romano, a Penn State graduate, participate in two days of camp annually.

MTM Camp has achieved significant and measurable outcomes regarding participant application submission to the Penn State engineering program. Knobloch explained that since 2003, more than 80 percent of camp participants apply and are accepted to engineering at Penn State.

"MTM Camp is overwhelmingly effective as a means of introducing high school girls to the engineering career path. Engaging girls in hands-on design projects, facilitated by women engineering role models, produces incredible and measurable results. Additionally, campers and parents begin an important relationship with Penn State that typically lasts for many years. The vast majority of these girls would not have chosen engineering as an academic pursuit without the positive experiences and mentoring that MTM Camp provides," Knobloch said.

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Last Updated July 14, 2009