III. Discover Engineering Summer Camp Initiative at Ryerson

A. Background

In 1990, at Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, the participation of women was less than half the provincial average, with percentages as low as 3 to 5% in Mechanical, Aerospace and Electrical engineering. The Women In Engineering (WIE) Committee was established in 1989 with an explicit goal to increase the number of women in Ryerson engineering programs. In 1991 the Discover Engineering Summer Camp for high school female students was initiated to encourage young women to enter university engineering programs.

It is crucial that the success of a program aimed at attracting girls into science and engineering is evaluated. In the 1995 report of the working conference at George Washington University, entitled "Model Programs to Attract Young Minority Women to Engineering and Science", follow-up is cited as the most important characteristic of an exemplary program, regardless of program design or setting [9], [10]. To evaluate the success of the "Discover Engineering" project, the participants are asked to complete surveys over time concerning the camp experience, their attitudes about engineering and their career decisions [11]. These data can be used to measure the success of the camp experience and to track the number of participants who go on to choose engineering as their university major.

B. Elements of a Successful Initiative

The "Discover Engineering" camp program deals directly with the previously outlined issues that deflect women away from science careers [12], as described below:

Role Models: Students meet a wide variety of women engineering students, engineering professors and practicing engineers.

Confidence Building: Many of the camp activities are hands-on and result in something the student can take home, so that the student will experience the involvement of a mini-engineering project and see herself as competent. Having a project to show at home also creates support from parents and relatives.

Career Options: At the end of the week, the student has seen and heard about a wide variety of career options, both in subject material (civil, electrical, mechanical and so on) and in career focus (researcher, applications engineer, manager, inventor.)

Societal Role of Engineering: The camp program emphasizes that engineering makes an important contribution to society, and that interaction with other people is an important aspect of engineering.

C. Design and Management of the Project

The "Discover Engineering" program is unique in the Toronto area. Unlike some other science and engineering programs, it is delivered exclusively to women. Although there is conflicting evidence about single-sex education, there is a general perception that girls fare better in math and science in single sex environments [13].

The camp is presented in a week-long summer camp format which allows more time to introduce the many aspects of engineering. It targets an older age group than other programs and engineering professors have primary responsibility for development and delivery of the curriculum. Where possible, women professors do the teaching. In addition, two university engineering students act as camp counselors, and other engineering students assist in different project areas.

Posters, information and applications are sent out to more than 500 high schools in the greater Metropolitan Toronto area either to the heads of the science departments, the guidance counselors or individual science teachers. Once applications are returned, places are filled on a first-come first-serve basis. Because of the demand, the camp has been expanded twice in the seven years of its existence. The enrollment increased from three sessions of 20 students each in 1991 to the current five sessions of 30 students each. The camp is usually oversubscribed, with 100 students on the waiting list.

Thanks to support from the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Ryerson, for the last three years a part-time Coordinator of Women in Engineering Projects, has managed the substantial logistics of the camp program, as well as worked on attracting industrial sponsors. She is also assisted by one or more engineering students. For the past two years, the Women In Engineering at Ryerson Web Site has also served as an effective tool to disseminate information about the camp and other projects being carried out by the WIE.

The total project budget is about $60,000 per annum, requiring substantial support from the university and from our engineering industry and federal government. Sponsors support the project with donations in kind, financial support, and by identifying speakers for the panel discussions. In return, they are recognized in various displays of their company logos and provided with reports and certificates identifying their support.