SBC to host Fall 2015 Explore Engineering Weekend

| September 11, 2015

A high school student works on her project during the Summer 2012 Explore Engineering camp.

The Margaret Jones Wyllie ’45 Engineering Program at Sweet Briar College is now taking applications for its Fall 2015 Explore Engineering Weekend for high school girls. The event is sponsored by AREVA and will take place Friday, Oct. 16, through Saturday, Oct. 17.

Now in its seventh year, Explore Engineering is a series of summer, fall and spring events built around hands-on, team-based design projects that emphasize creativity. No previous engineering experience is needed to attend the camps, which are designed for high school sophomores, juniors or seniors.

Priority for the fall weekend will be given to applicants who register by Oct. 5, as space is limited. The $35 fee includes meals, snacks, lodging, supplies and a T-shirt. For more information, visit the Explore Engineering website or contact engineering program director Hank Yochum at [email protected] or (434) 381-6357, or project coordinator Paulette Porter at [email protected] or (434) 381-6447.

During the course, participants will work in teams with Sweet Briar professors and students on a project that is challenging, but ideal for those new to engineering. Among other things, campers will learn the design process from brainstorming to testing and revising prototypes; find out from professors and students what it’s like to work as an engineer or be an engineering student, or what one can do with an engineering degree from Sweet Briar; and learn to turn their designs into reality.

The camps are a great way to introduce girls to the many facets of engineering, says Kaelyn Leake, a 2009 graduate of Sweet Briar’s engineering program. Leake came back as a visiting assistant professor this year and will be co-teaching the weekend course.

“Engineering is currently a male-dominated field, and girls figure this out at a surprisingly young age,” says Leake, who received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of California-Santa Cruz earlier this year. “This means that they choose not to do camps or take classes because they know they will be one of only a few girls there. That’s intimidating.”

Two high school girls collaborate during the Summer 2012 Explore Engineering camp at Sweet Briar.

Leake is speaking from experience, having taken her first engineering-related class in a coed environment in high school. She was one of just two girls, surrounded by about 20 boys — an “odd feeling,” she admits.

“As a kid, I was lucky enough to have a father who was an engineer, since he never questioned my ability to do the stuff engineers do,” she says. “I was able to play with engineering when most people aren’t given that opportunity. I already knew I enjoyed engineering, but I’m not sure I would have taken the class [otherwise].”

That “odd” experience played an important role in Leake’s decision to look at women’s college, and Sweet Briar in particular.

“I knew I wanted to do something related to engineering, but I also knew I wanted to do so in a place where I was the standard and not the exception,” she says.

Sweet Briar’s engineering camps — a weeklong course in the summer and weekends in the fall and spring — offer high school girls a taste of what it’s like to learn in a single-sex environment, and to be taken seriously as aspiring engineers.

“[Girls get] to try engineering without having the social pressures of the traditional male atmosphere,” Leake says. “The camps are also a lot of fun. Students are able to design a project using the same techniques that are used by professionals and are encouraged to think outside the box. The projects tend to combine mechanical and electrical engineering with creativity, and we usually end up with something that is a combination of technology and art.”

To date, more than 300 high school-age women have participated in one or more Explore Engineering event, and more than 25 of them later enrolled at Sweet Briar — one of only two women’s colleges in the country to offer an ABET-accredited degree in engineering.

To Leake, the College’s near-death — and its alumnae’s heroic effort that saved it — only emphasizes why its survival is so important, especially for future female engineers.

Yochum agrees.

“We are thrilled to continue to offer high school women the opportunity to interact with our faculty and student mentors,” he said. “It is a great privilege to work with such creative and engaged high school students. I’m always impressed with the innovative ideas the young women bring to our projects.

“We are also grateful to have the support from AREVA, our corporate sponsor.”

Janika Carey

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Category: Engineering Science, Explore Engineering