WPI Reaches to Future Students

Contact: WPI Media Relations, +1-508-831-5706

Forensics at Camp ReachWORCESTER, Mass. -- July 24, 2004 -- To increase young women's interest and confidence in the fields of engineering, science and technology, Worcester Polytechnic Institute is hosting its eighth annual, award-winning summer program called Camp Reach. The two-week long residential curriculum, running from July 25 through August 6, blends field trips, workshops and group projects together to both teach 30 Massachusetts girls about to enter seventh grade the importance of team work in engineering and also to help them gain confidence in themselves.

The combination of effectiveness in promoting engineering, unique design projects, and the camp's continuing communication throughout the year with the campers helped Camp Reach earn the 2003 Women in Engineering Program Award, as well as Honorable Mention in the SME Education Foundation's Building the Future Award for 2004.

Each year the students break up into teams to solve one of three projects to gain first-hand experience with real-world problem solving. Each team is comprised of ten campers, two or three high school juniors or seniors, and one middle school teacher who all work together applying traditional engineering problem solving methods to their project. This year's projects are:

  • Addressing and improving the maintenance problems of the Worcester YWCA day care center playground
  • Creating a more effective use of the storage room for the American Cancer Society sponsored Hope Lodge in Worcester
  • Developing a window display strategy for the new Regional Environmental Council's Chandler Street offices

The teams work together three to four hours a day for two weeks while the Reach co-directors assist the groups in addition to the middle school teachers and high school teacher assistants with general guidance.

"To help the students learn about engineering problem solving techniques, each organization is treated as a customer," says Chrysanthe Demetry, co-director of Camp Reach and WPI associate professor of mechanical engineering. "The groups will have meetings with their customers to find out what the problems and limitations are and will come up with the project priorities. The groups will need to find a way to solve the problem, satisfy their customer, and remain inside their provided budget. Another great part of the camp is that the organizations implement the girls' concepts over the following year so the campers get to see their ideas being utilized."

In addition to the projects, students also work with WPI professors in various scientific workshops to highlight ways engineering manifests itself in their day-to-day life. This year's eight workshops range from building a radio, to solving a mysterious jewel theft through the use of forensics, as well as dissecting and designing shoes, to the importance of building dynamics and material properties illustrated by traveling to Cape Cod to build sandcastles.

Unlike most camps that end as the students drive away on the last day, Camp Reach is designed to linger after participants leave campus. WPI remains in contact with the campers over the following year through newsletters, reunions, and information sessions for the parents. The camp also provides former campers with the opportunity to come back to be teachers assistants among the all female staff while becoming mentors and role models to the campers. The program also demonstrates that, while engineering fields are largely dominated by men, the preteen girls should not become discouraged or feel uncertain about pursuing a bachelor of science degree.

WPI offers many other camps to challenge students as they make their way through middle and high school.

  • The Frontiers Program (July 11-23, 2004) is a two-week on-campus curriculum where high school juniors and seniors have the opportunity to study and work with full time WPI professors
  • Strive (July 11-17, 2004) is a one-week on-campus program for African-American, Latino, and Native American students in any high school year to explore engineering
  • GEMS (July 18-24, 2004) is another one-week on-campus program for girls grades 10-12 to experiment with science and engineering with WPI's hands-on approach
  • GEMS Jr. (August 2-6, 2004) is a five day commuting program for girls entering the eight and ninth grades that want to explore science and engineering through hands-on activities