President Obama today named Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) Camp Reach as a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring for 2011. Camp Reach, which completed its 15th year this past summer, is one of 17 individuals and organizations around the country to be named to this prestigious honor for the years 2010 and 2011.
The Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring recognizes the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering — particularly those who belong to groups that are underrepresented in these fields. By offering their expertise and encouragement, mentors help prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers while ensuring that tomorrow’s innovators reflect and benefit from the diverse talent of the United States.
"Through their commitment to education and innovation, these individuals and organizations are playing a crucial role in the development of our 21st century workforce," President Obama said. "Our Nation owes them a debt of gratitude for helping ensure that America remains the global leader in science and engineering for years to come."
Candidates for the award are nominated by colleagues, administrators, and students in their home institutions. The mentoring can involve students at any grade level from elementary through graduate school. In addition to being honored at the White House, recipients receive awards of $25,000 from the National Science Foundation to advance their mentoring efforts. Recipients will receive their awards at a White House ceremony later this year.
Camp Reach, one of several WPI K-12 programs aimed at math and science education for girls, was founded in 1997 by professors Chrysanthe Demetry and the late Denise Nicoletti. Initial funding was provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Model Projects for Women and Girls. Thirty girls from Massachusetts participate annually in the two-week residential program. Camp Reach includes hands-on workshops, a design project for a community organization, field trips, recreational activities, and follow-up programs during the academic year.
"This is quite an honor. Camp Reach has been a wonderfully successful program," said WPI President Dennis Berkey. "It is one of several highly effective pipeline programs in which our faculty and staff provide important mentoring to boys and girls interested in math and science. I am grateful to Dean Karen Oates for nominating Camp Reach in the spirit of all of these wonderful programs."
"WPI is a fertile ground for STEM education and learning, as exemplified by our Mass Academy of Math and Science, the Learning Sciences program, smart math tutoring systems, Project Lead the Way, and our new STEM Education Center," Dr. Berkey continued. "Our grants through the Bill and Melinda Gates and William and Flora Hewlett foundations, as well the National Science Foundation, help us in these worthy efforts."
According to a 2009 study, almost 18 percent of Camp Reach participants intended to pursue an engineering major in college, as compared with 2.9 percent of a control group and a national average of 2.5 percent for women. Regardless of education or career plans, participants cited Camp Reach as providing a sense of empowerment and self-esteem. As high school students they showed high self-rating of computer skills, math abilities, and intellectual self-confidence, compared to national averages for women. They also showed high enrollments in calculus, physics, and STEM activities as high school students.
Camp Reach has been successful in encouraging girls to pursue engineering and STEM-related careers while fostering community involvement. Over the past 15 years, Camp Reach teams have completed more than 45 projects to benefit local nonprofit organizations. Friendly House of Worcester, Boys and Girls Club of Worcester, AIDS Project Worcester, and Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary are among the nonprofits that have worked with Camp Reach. Past design projects include modifying a bedroom for a disabled child, designing a recycling program for a business, creating a computer workstation for an adult day program, and recommending trail improvements at the wildlife sanctuary.