AUSTIN, Texas — While traditional middle school girl summer campers may be painting nails and performing skits, campers at The University of Texas at Austin College of Engineering’s EXITE program will be automating toenail painting for people with disabilities and mechanizing the stage for performers.
The Exploring Interest in Technology and Engineering (EXITE) is a weeklong, nonresidential summer program designed to expose middle-school girls to engineering and computer science. The pilot project, co-sponsored by IBM, UT Austin’s Women in Engineering Program and the national Women in Engineering Programs and Advocates Network (WEPAN), will occur at six U.S. universities this summer, including the June 5-9 week at UT Austin. Women engineers from IBM, university professors and graduate students will serve as project teachers, speakers and mentors.
“Although women make up about half of the overall population, only 8.4 percent of employed engineers and 20 percent of UT Austin undergraduate engineering students are women,” said Dr. Sherry Woods, director of the Women in Engineering Program at UT Austin. “Research indicates girls historically have been directed away from advanced math and science classes, which provide the academic preparation and confidence crucial to a successful engineering career. One of our goals is to counteract that trend so girls can build their confidence and be successful.”
In the Austin area, 40 girls, who have completed grades six or seven, will participate. In addition to seminars on effective teamwork, decision-making and communicating, each team of five girls will be given a RoboLab kit (mechanized, software-driven Legos) and the choice of ten projects to undertake. These range from robotic toenail painting to equipping a home for the deaf to alert inhabitants of phone calls and doorbells with lights instead of sound. To “market” their project, each team will also create a multi-media web presentation. During the week, the girls also will visit a local IBM site to gain an insider’s view of engineers’ daily life.
“We want to reach girls — instill an excitement, passion and relevance about engineering and computer science in girls — at an age before stereotypes encourage them to pursue more traditionally female careers,” said Susan Staffin Metz, WEPAN president and EXITE director.
For additional information, contact Becky Rische, College of Engineering, (512) 471-7272.