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Encouraging Young Women to Pursue Engineering: 25 Years of Summer Camp Successes and Challenges

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Jessica J. Lofton University of Evansville

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Dr. Lofton is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Evansville, and the Director for the OPTIONS in Engineering summer camps for middle school and high school girls. After earning her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Evansville, she completed her M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Illinois, with a graduate minor in College Teaching. She is a faculty advisor for the student chapters of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

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Twenty-five years ago, the University of Evansville, a small, private liberal arts institution in the Midwest, initiated a hands-on summer camp to encourage high school girls to pursue engineering. UE’s OPTIONS in Engineering camp has evolved into separate week-long residential experiences for high school and middle school girls, as well as a week-long day camp for middle school boys. The engineering camp for high school girls has included an international experience on two occasions. University students act as counselors and mentors, allowing the camp to impact young women at multiple educational stages. Testaments from past participants and counselors depict the experience as inspirational and positively transforming perceptions of STEM. Participants have pursued STEM degrees, including graduate degrees, and worked professionally as engineers after attending the camp.

This paper presents the best practices, challenges, and successes of the camp as it has adapted to new generations of participants and advances in engineering and technology. Originally created to increase the representation of women in engineering, the camp exposes participants to like-minded peers, female college students, faculty, and practicing engineers in order to provide a critical mass of role models and begin developing a professional support network - both of which have been shown to improve retention and self-efficacy of women in STEM fields.

The university assesses learning outcomes via a pre-test and post-test covering topics within various engineering disciplines. Participants are asked to provide both qualitative and quantitative feedback regarding the camp experience in an exit survey on the final day of camp. All assessment is completed anonymously; however, archival data are not available for each year. This paper highlights qualitative and quantitative findings from the past decade.

Lofton, J. J. (2017, June), Encouraging Young Women to Pursue Engineering: 25 Years of Summer Camp Successes and Challenges Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28222

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