Summer camps are a staple experience for American teenagers. Today, many camps include advanced computing and robotics in their offerings to keep up with the rapidly evolving technology landscape.
For parents thinking of sending their child to a camp, the hardest part often is to figure out the lay of the land – given the multitude of universities offering a plethora of programs. If their child has a knack for STEM, they need to research technology camps offering courses such as coding, game design, app development, robotics, among others.
Here’s an option if a girl in high school has an interest in cars: Michigan Technological University’s “Women in Automotive Engineering” summer youth program.
The immersive, week-long program aims to inculcate a strong interest in automotive engineering among pre-college teens to kick-start their dream job in the automotive industry and also help gain a competitive edge for college.
Although the camp is meant only for juniors and seniors, some super motivated 9th graders typically make it to the class each summer.
The program strives to address concerns about gender gap in the automotive workforce. Women make up 47% of the US labor force, but only 24% of the automotive workforce, says a 2015 Deloitte study.
The gap also is evident in college degrees. Women received 19.9% of all Bachelor’s degrees awarded by an engineering program in 2015, according to the American Society of Engineering Education. Of that, only 13.2% degrees were in mechanical engineering and 12.5% in electrical engineering – the two most sought after disciplines in the automotive industry.
“We have an opportunity to increase our numbers in the automotive area,” said Cynthia Hodges, an automotive engineer with Ford Motor Company who assists with the WIAE program.
Now in its second year, WIAE has had an astonishing success rate in terms of inculcating a serious interest in automotive engineering among the camp goers.
More than 85% camp goers said they would be interested in an automotive engineering career, according to a post-program survey this summer. That compares to 40% who said they would be interested in such a career before the start of the program. A whopping 95% said they would be interested in pursuing a science career once they completed the camp.
“That’s not surprising,” said Cody Kangas, director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Tech. “A majority of the students who attend Michigan Tech’s youth programs are going to get a degree in STEM fields.”
Kangas oversees the university’s three innovative programs: Mind Trekkers, Summer Youth Programs (which includes WIAE), and College Access Programs. Nearly 1,300 students attend those programs.
Hodges remembers taking an 18-hour greyhound bus ride from Detroit to Houghton in 1981 to attend Michigan Tech’s “Women in Engineering” summer camp, a precursor to WIAE. As a 17-year-old, she had no idea what engineering entailed but wanted to find out. “After a week at the camp, I changed my mind – I knew I wanted to pursue engineering, become an automotive engineer.”
She went back to Michigan Tech for a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Today, she’s a chassis engineer at Ford Motors – a career she has had for the past 28 years.
At the WIAE camp, teens write codes to enable cars to perform autonomous functions, delve into software design calibration, and generally learn how to make humans and machines interact to make the vehicles safer to drive.
However, the most interesting part of the learning happens when students get to tear apart a vehicle, said Chris Morgan, a Michigan Tech engineer who teaches the WIAE program.
“We have a scavenger hunt for parts,” he said. “The students explore engines, batteries, transmission systems, and others parts of a vehicle.”
Morgan said he would like to incorporate more advanced courses in the program such as engineering around driverless cars.
Since its inception in summer 2016, the camp has inducted 20 students each year through a vigorous selection program based on GPAs, recommendation letters from teachers, Statements of Purpose, achievements outside of academics, etc. More than half comprise American students, while the rest come from as far as South Korea and Pakistan. Many students receive scholarships to help defray the cost of attending the week-long camp, which includes residency in dorms, campus meals, transportation, etc. in addition to hands-on course experiments.
Last year, Fiat Chrysler Automotive sponsored the $30,000 program. This year, however, a potential sponsorship deal with Ford Motors fell through, prompting Michigan Tech to self-fund the camp which costs about $1,500 per student.
Hodges said Ford is interested in supporting WIAE program in the future.
“The automotive business is all about helping people,” she said. “We all own a car, and we use it every day. I have been in this business for 28 years; it’s an exciting field and there’s no other business I’d want to be in.”