July 10, 2013

WPI prides itself in preparing its students for the technological jobs of the future, but what some might not know, is that the institution is also helping ignite a passion for future students who have an interest in technology-oriented careers at a young age.

Camp Reach will begin its annual summer program in the coming weeks, and is in the process of seeking professional women at WPI who wish to share their experience about their careers in a one-day workshop.

“The high school teaching assistants probably have the greatest impact on the girls,” says co-director Chrys Demetry. “There’s so much research … that shows that having positive role models with math and science interests is really impactful when they encounter stereotypes. The women practicing engineering in science are mentors as well, and the girls get to meet with them to ask questions about their careers, and how they got where they are.”

The focus of the camp is getting the girls (who’ll be entering 7th grade) acclimated to technology and engineering by engaging in workshops and field trips with an engineering focus.

The 2013 camp (16th consecutive) runs from July 21 to August 2; it costs $1,295. The girls engage in solving real-world problems, and this year the camp will partner with Mass Housing Alliance, Friendly House and Interfaith Hospitality Network, and the Regional Environmental Council to construct engineering solutions and recommendations for issues facing these Worcester-based organizations.

STEM disciplines is an area of the economy experiencing growth, high-paying jobs, and there is a need for additional individuals in these fields. Historically, women are less represented than men in these fields. Camp Reach aims to encourage young girls to engage in these careers, and has had a lot of success in doing so. According to the camp’s website, 18 percent of graduates of the program major in engineering, compared to 2.5 percent of women nationally.

“Women remain substantially underrepresented in technical fields across the board, especially in engineering,” Demetry says. “The workforce needs in the coming decades are definitely in those areas, so we need to attract more girls and women into STEM education pathways to train better engineers, since better engineers need a diversity of perspectives.”

Role models are a critical component to the success of the camp. A wide spectrum of ages represent the mentors involved, including nine high school students and six college students with STEM interests. Around 30 program alumnae, ranging from eighth graders to seniors in high school contribute to the program, along with 5-10 current WPI students and faculty members.

There are a number of fun activities where the camp incorporates educational principles, including shoe making and ice cream sundae creation. Field trips (including a visit to Bose), career workshops, and an event to teach the students about managing finances will be featured this year.

The Budget Savvy Workshop is a one-day event sponsored by the United Way of North Central Massachusetts. Its goal is to teach financial literacy through a simulative experience where the girls envision their future at age 24 and learn how much they expect to make from their chosen career and how much their lifestyle preferences will cost. The budget workshop is still looking for professional women at WPI comprising a broad range of disciplines to volunteer. Interested candidates should contact Julia Sorcinelli (jsorcinelli@wpi.edu).

By Matt Stewart