STEM Camper Madelyn Meyer is ready to test her rainwater collection experiment.

In April, five female faculty members in the College of Engineering, Technology, and Computer Science at Purdue University Fort Wayne began to realize that this summer’s Future Girls of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Camp, held in conjunction with the Girl Scouts, might not happen, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Subsequently, the quintet started looking for ways they could revamp the curriculum so the camp could go on. In May, the writing was on the wall: The summer camp would have to become an online event.

“We created a detailed, engaging curriculum for the girls to follow that included hands-on activities to teach them about biomedical, water, and mechanical engineering,” said camp leader Becca Essig, assistant professor of Engineering and first-year Engineering coordinator. “All the materials needed for the activities were provided in camp bags, and we created a series of videos about each activity and interviews with six different practicing female engineers.”

Those bags of materials were distributed to the campers the first week of July as their parents “drove by” the Engineering Technology building on the Purdue Fort Wayne campus. Atefeh Mohammadpour, assistant professor of Construction Management, noted, “The campers were excited to come and get their materials, and one of them mentioned she is planning on coming to Purdue Fort Wayne for her undergraduate degree in engineering.”

“With this program, we are intending to build a pipeline of girls interested in STEM, creating opportunities for them to connect with female mentors and role models,” said Jennifer Hunter, a lecturer in Organizational Leadership. “Knowing the impactful and positive experience of last year’s face-to-face camp, we didn’t want to lose momentum with the girls.”

These faculty know that reaching out to young female students is important, both to the girls and to the industry. “Research indicates that girls lose interest in STEM classes in and around the time of early middle school,” said Kim O’Connor, associate professor in Organizational Leadership. “Our camp aims to involve girls in STEM activities before this crucial time.”

Behin Elahi, assistant professor of Industrial Engineering Technology, added, “Our programs are designed to develop girls’ STEM, leadership, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, as well as their creativity.”

The online camp, which concludes July 31, offers a wide variety of options to keep the 25 campers, who are second through fourth graders, busy learning and having fun. Elahi says the self-directed learning units help campers to be creative in conducting their experiments.

“Since they had more time working on activities and designed experiments, they tried to be more creative and really surprised us by their videos and pictures showing their unique designs,” observed Elahi. “The girls had an opportunity to work at their own pace through the daily lessons.”

Essig says the best part of the online format is that the parents get to see how excited their campers are while they work through the activities. “In a regular camp, the parents only get to hear about everything at the end of each day, but this summer they get to see it firsthand! We’ve received a bunch of videos of campers showing off their inventions. Putting the camp together definitely paid off, seeing how proud the campers and parents are of their hard work.”

The Waynedale News Staff
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