According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women currently hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. And when examined globally, that number drops even lower to less than 16 percent (https://mspoweruser.com/only-6-7-of-women-graduate-with-stem-degrees-microsoft-aims-to-change-that-with-makewhatsnext). With so many brilliant and well-educated women in the world, it’s alarming that more women do not choose to go into careers involving science, technology, engineering, and math.
The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Brigham Young University is fighting these shockingly low statistics by getting girls interested in STEM fields while they are young. BYU Chip Camp, hosted by the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, has helped hundreds of seventh and eighth-grade students explore the fields of engineering, electronics, and chemistry.
Chip Camp was designed with one purpose in mind: to help young people explore their interests in technological fields. Students who participated had the opportunity to create circuits, build and test model rockets, observe technological fabrication processes, build ping-pong ball hurling catapults, and even explore the university’s Cleanroom facility. With direction from professors Hawkins, Mazzeo, Chiang, Wirthlin, and Harrison, and counseled by undergraduate students in the IMMERSE program, Chip-Campers soaked up every minute of the three-day hands-on learning experience.
In addition to providing campers with exciting opportunities to engage in hands-on learning, Chip Camp is also dedicated to getting young girls interested in STEM fields. The Chip Camp Website states that “an equal number of boys and girls will be allowed to participate.” Chip Camp director, Aaron Hawkins said, “recruiting girls to STEM, and specifically electrical and computer engineering, has been a challenge that we’ve tried to address for almost twenty years. We’re currently trying a multi-pronged approach and Chip Camp is just one of the things we’re doing to try and reach female students at a young and impressionable age.”
The Chip Camp program attracted many intelligent and ambitious female students with future career goals ranging from working in bioinformatics to medicine. Lucy Baily, a student who attended the second week of Chip Camp said, “I thought [Chip Camp] would be a cool experience to learn about different things and things I can pursue in college and my future career. I’m really interested in careers in the STEM fields. Chip Camp has been really fun so far. I’ve enjoyed learning about coding and technology a little more.” Bailey’s enthusiasm was echoed by many other campers who were thrilled by the experiences Chip Camp offered.
Aaron Hawkins is still determined to continue to increase the number of female attendees in future years. “We think that one of the keys to success is getting a greater number of female students together, so they don’t think, ‘why am I the only girl here?’ This makes students feel [more comfortable,] like they’re working together with friends and colleagues. For that reason, we’ve been devoting a lot of attention to [outreach programs which will] increase the number of female students interested in our program.” Hawkins’ statement was also expressed by many of the female camp counselors. Stephanie Ashby, an undergraduate student in her third year of the Computer Engineering program and a Chip Camp counselor, said, “I think these camps are a good way to give kids a taste of STEM. I think these camps mainly help kids see what working in STEM fields is actually like. A lot of girls, I feel like, don’t go into the field because they simply don’t know what to expect. Seeing female counselors who are in the program helps younger girls see that engineering isn't just a ‘guy thing.’”
Chip Camp and other programs which provide young students with hands-on learning opportunities are a great way to promote equal representation of women in STEM fields. By getting students involved and excited about science and technology at a young age, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering hopes to inspire more students—specifically female students—to pursue STEM-related careers in the future. As Nichelle Nichols, a former NASA Ambassador and Star Trek actress, expressed, “Science is not a boy's game, it's not a girl's game. It's everyone's game. It's about where we are and where we're going.”