The Daily Illini

When it comes to inspiring future women engineers, UI doesn’t play GAMES

Mariel Elopre

Mariel Elopre

By Melissa Niemiec, Technograph Writer

Hundreds of teenage girls gather at the University each summer. Some are apprehensive, others raring to go as they look forward to the activities of the week. Counselors watch over them, ready to see the girls learn and grow.

A person reading this might immediately think cheerleading camp, but no, this takes place on Bardeen Quad. These girls are here to learn what it means to be an engineer.

Girls’ Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering and Science is a camp for girls in grades 9-12, created and facilitated by Women in Engineering. The purpose of the camp is to introduce engineering to young women through hands-on activities and classroom lectures in hopes they will be inspired to pursue engineering during their college years.

“Through multiple studies, it has been shown that girls are equally as interested in science when they’re younger, but through society and school, a lot of times they get disinterested,” said Will Helgren, junior in LAS. Helgren is the student coordinator for GAMES and is in charge of hiring camp counselors.

GAMES is especially useful for students whose high schools do not offer engineering-based classes. Many schools do not have the funding to produce the curriculum needed for more technically advanced subjects.

“I was never exposed to the academic side of engineering, and so going to this camp gave me an inside view of what it was all about,” said Elizabeth Sanders, senior in Engineering and former camper. “It broadened my horizons when picking a major later.”

Sanders participated in GAMES as a middle schooler and returned as a camp counselor in college. She emphasized how her experiences helped her explore many aspects of engineering, leading her to ultimately finding her passion for chemical engineering.

Sanders also said the camp made her feel “empowered” as a young woman interested in math and science; it was comforting to meet so many other girls her age who shared those interests.

Creating this sense of community within a male-dominated field is important, as young women can often feel alone in areas relating to math and science.

“Sometimes, they have that stigma that math and science are for boys,” said Sahid Lines, Women in Engineering outreach coordinator.“Or they’re interested in doing something to help the community or the world, and yet somehow they don’t understand that they can do that through engineering.”

With women making up only 22 percent of students in the College of Engineering as of fall 2017, removing stereotypes about engineering and getting more women interested in the field is a main goal for GAMES facilitators.

GAMES is separated into seven different camps, each focusing on a different aspect of engineering, such as computer engineering or bioengineering. Campers attend classes during the day and do fun community building activities in the evening. Some curricula include field trips.

Sanders detailed an experience she had at GAMES, describing a project where she was tasked to build a boat completely out of cardboard. The campers then tested out their creations in a pool, and the boat that held up the best was crowned the winner.

However, from surveys the girls completed at the end of camp, it would seem that the other young women they got to meet and interact with had the largest impact on the campers.

“It’s important for them to realize there’s this whole community of women that are also interested in math and science,” Lines said.

Each camp is a week long and can support about 100 girls. Since space is limited, girls looking to participate in GAMES do need to apply. The free application asks for GPA, grades specifically in math and science courses and a teacher recommendation.

When reviewing applications, the GAMES staff also considers factors such as the circumstances a student comes from and financial need. GAMES costs $1,000 for the week, but scholarships are available.

Women in college who were inspired by their experiences by GAMES, or who just want to affect high school students’ college experience, can participate in GAMES as counselors.

Helgren notes Women in Engineering looks for women who are outgoing, are comfortable working within a team and “who have a passion for extending the interests that they have in their own fields towards future engineers.” Driven by a desire to spread the inspiration, Sanders was a GAMES counselor for three years.

“In college, I’ve had experiences where I was not considered smart enough because I was a woman in engineering, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to any of these girls,” Sanders said. “I want them to know they are smart enough and 100 percent capable.”

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