The Wire @ WPI Online
VOLUME 11, NO. 1     MAY 1997

Meet tomorrow's engineer

IQP Students provide the heart and soul of Camp REACH

This summer, thanks to the efforts of student project teams at WPI and a $73,165 grant from the National Science Foundation, 30 seventh-grade girls from Central Massachusetts will be attending WPI's Camp REACH, a special two-week program designed to help them learn about engineering and develop self-esteem and self-confidence in math and science."

The idea for an engineering camp for middle school girls came about as a direct result of one of WPI's graduation requirements - the IQP,"says Denise W. Nicoletti, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, who co-advised the project with Chrysanthe Demetry Terwilliger '88, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

Terwilliger says that the findings of IQP partners Stephanie Gagne '97, Robert Grelotti '98, Lisa Sundre '97 and Chi-Yan Tsang '98 formed the basis of the NSF grant proposal for the implementation of the camp.

Girls generally are not advised to pursue engineering careers by their parents, guidance counselors and teachers... the best way to stem the tide is to expose [them] to the excitement of engineering and technology in a supportive atmosphere of achievement.

Some of the discoveries were eye-openers. For example, the team discovered that while females outnumber males in the general population, they comprise only 4 percent of all engineers. In addition, since the peak year of 1987, the number of bachelor's degrees in engineering awarded to women has been steadily declining.

The team concluded that this discouraging trend continues because girls generally are not advised to pursue engineering careers by their parents, guidance counselors and teachers. The students determined that the best way to stem the tide is to expose young girls to the excitement of engineering and technology in a supportive atmosphere of achievement such as that at WPI. A residential summer camp seemed the ideal solution.

Terwilliger says studies show that girls are drawn more toward careers that have a "care perspective"and learn best through collaboration, rather than competition, with others.

Camp REACH will stress that engineering is a collaborative, problem-solving process used every day to help people. The major focus of the camp will be to provide the girls with opportunities to work together to solve open-ended problems through a community service design project.

"Campers will participate in projects such as designing a display case or constructing a World Wide Web site,"says Nicoletti. Among potential 'customers' for the seventh-graders' design service are area hospitals, museums and parks.

Since last summer, 11 IQP students have been developing projects for Discovery Workshops - the other major component of the program. During their practice workshop, Kimberlee Mix '98 and Kerri O'Connor '98 sparked the interest of students from Shrewsbury Middle School when they presented a scenario in which a jewel thief stole an emerald necklace at WPI but left behind key evidence. Mix and O'Connor challenged the youngsters to use modern forensic science techniques to discover "Who Dun It?"

They analyzed clues using gas chromatography, infrared spectroscopy, ink analysis, fingerprinting and DNA modeling.

During their Radio Workshop, Linda Cappuccia '98, Kristomus Iwo '97, and Nilufer Saltuk '98 taught two teams from Girls Incorporated of Worcester how to build and test radios. The goal was to boost their confidence, provide a hands-on learning experience, and promote an interest in engineering.

Through their IQP projects and subsequent design workshops, the WPI students became the heart and soul of the development of Camp REACH. Several members of the WPI faculty are also contributing to the program by serving as workshop directors. Holly Keyes Ault '74, associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Allen H. Hoffman '63, professor of mechanical engineering, are preparing a workshop called "Mobility for the Disabled"; Brigitte Servatius, associate professor of mathematics, will direct the "Bracing of Grids"workshop, in which the strength of structures in earthquakes will be discussed; Daniel G. Gibson III, assistant professor of biology and biotechnology, will lead a field trip to the ocean for his workshop "Sandcastles as an Engineering Experience.""

All members of the camp staff will be trained in gender-equitable teaching of math, science and technology subjects to young girls,"says Nicoletti, who will direct the camp with Terwilliger. Middle school math and science teachers, resident assistants and counselors-in-training will also be on staff.

"We are all eager to learn the outcome of our months of planning,"says Terwilliger. One outcome is a given. The girls will certainly know more about themselves in relation to science and technology, says Nicoletti. "Many may decide to take four full years of high school math and science. Some may start looking forward to college and engineering careers. That's what Camp REACH is all about!"

- RT


open from July 27 to Aug. 9, is a residential program for girls in Worcester County who will complete the sixth grade during 1997 and who are interested in learning more about engineering and technology.

Highlights of the two-week summer session will include open-ended design projects for customers in the Worcester community and Discovery Workshops, where campers will participate in hands-on projects in WPI's labs and classrooms. Field trips and recreational activities will also be featured; they are included in the $150 fee.

For more information, call WPI's Outreach Programs office at 508-831-5819, write to WPI Camp REACH, 100 Institute Road, Worcester, MA 01609, or visit the Web site at

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Last modified: Tue May 27 12:25:17 EDT 1997