The following is from the June 24, 2007, edition of The Dallas Morning News

Sparking an interest in the engineering field

Students take part in hands-on SMU technology camp

The Dallas Morning News

For Richardson high school seniors Anne Frey and Natalie Lyons, summer camp didn't exactly involve s'mores and sing-alongs. It was a bit more technical than that.

Both students were among the 144 girls entering grades eight through 12 expected to attend Southern Methodist University's Engineering Camp for Girls, where they participated in hands-on science experiments and toured the university's engineering department laboratories.

When Anne's friends at J.J. Pearce High School found out she was attending an engineering camp, they weren't exactly supportive, Anne said.

"I had a friend who took it last year and recommended it," she said. "Some of my friends were like, 'That sounds like fun, but it is summer.' "

Natalie received similar reactions from her friends at Richland Collegiate High School.

"My friends were like, 'Are you crazy? It's summer!' It was only a week out of my whole summer, and it's giving me a glimpse of what engineering is about."

Anne, whose parents are Laurie and Bruce Frey of Richardson, said she hasn't settled on a career path.

"I enjoy math and thought this kind of camp would be interesting," she said. "I'm still undecided about where I want to go to college. I'm going back and forth between SMU and Texas Tech."

Natalie, who is also undecided about her future, said she saw the camp as a way to learn about something new.

"My aunt told me about it," she said. "I'm still not sure what I want to do, so I thought I'd check out engineering and see if I like it, you know, to broaden my options."

The engineering camp is part of the Gender Parity Initiative, a project of the Institute for Engineering Education at SMU to help fill the projected shortage of engineers by targeting women – an underrepresented population in the engineering profession, said Betsy Willis, the program's director.

"From a university and industry standpoint, we simply don't have enough engineers," she said. "We don't have enough students entering engineering and then graduating. We want to expose students to engineering and let them know what it's all about. Besides, you have a group of the student population who don't know what engineering is about. Most of these students excel in math or science and are looking for career fields. They may be good at calculus but wonder 'What can I do with it?' "

The Gender Parity Initiative started in 2002, and Mrs. Willis said the university is seeing favorable results.

"At SMU, 37 percent of our engineering students are female," she said. "That's more than double the national average of 17 percent. Fifty-five percent of SMU's student population is female, but that's characteristic of a liberal arts institute. ... We pretty much have a 100 percent job placement for our engineering graduates; most have multiple job offers when they graduate."

Read the full story.

# # #