Wide-eyed and smiling, three girls huddled around a Lego robot as they explored the world of engineering Monday at Niskayuna High School.
Meaghan Kehoe, 12; Laura Sitterly, 11; and Emma Kowaleski, 11, are just three of the 62 girls who are part of this year’s Engineering Institute for Young Women. For the second year in a row, the summer camp is being held for girls entering grades seven through nine.
“The whole idea of this is to learn about robotics and to get us to love engineering,” Meaghan said. “I am not really the best in math and science, but I have been growing to like it.”
Although it is summer vacation, the school’s classrooms bustled with students Monday. Camp Invention, an engineering camp for grades four through six, also began Monday. Both the Engineering Institute for Girls and Camp Invention are being held through the end of this week at the high school.
In partnership with the General Electric Co. and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Engineering Institute for Young Women is meant to inspire girls to pursue the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.
According to a 2010 report by the American Association of University Women, men outnumber women among graduates in almost every science and engineering field.
At 11, Laura already understands the importance of STEM learning for women.
“There is a lot of job openings now in STEM,” she said.
Mike Petrone is an eighth-grade technology teacher who oversees one of the summer camp classrooms. He explained STEM learning is extremely important, especially for girls.
“If they really have a handle on programming and logic, each one of them will get jobs — high-paying jobs,” he said. “And hopefully they can make a meaningful contribution to the world.”
This year is the first year of Camp Invention at Niskyauna. There are 63 participants in the coed program and the theme is “Innovate.” The camp, like Engineering Institute for Young Women, is highly interactive. Students are developing projects and inventions they believe will help improve the world. These include: revitalizing a virtual world that has gone awry, building catapults, creating a device to solve a problem and solving problems using teamwork.
Mary Hanchar, the Camp Invention director and a Niskayuna teacher, explained this summer camp has been weeks of preparation in the making, but is worth it.
“It is going really well,” she said.
She said programs like Camp Invention are important because they encourage students to work together and be creative.
“They promote problem solving,” she said. “They promote creative thinking.”
For Lizzy Ward, 9, and Rachel Wheeler, 8, engineering is no foreign concept. Both were born into families with engineers. On the first day of camp, the girls were working on making a model out of Styrofoam and tooth picks for their virtual avatars.
“It is really fun,” Rachel said. “And my dad is an engineer, so he is probably really happy that I am doing this camp.”
Michael Plekan, 11, said he has always enjoyed technology. He was a part of the group working on building a catapult.
“I always have had a thing for machines and computers,” he said.
Hanchar said she hopes the students come out of the camp thinking like scientists and excited about STEM.
“I hope they come out of it with a appreciation for science and engineering,” she said. “And the understanding that engineers are more than just people who are in a lab.”
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