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Engineering classes attempt to break stereotypes

6/20/2014

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

School might be out for the summer, but the learning hasn't stopped. The MakerSpace in Fort Hays State University's Forsyth Library was a hub of activity Thursday morning.

Students attending the FHSU girls engineering camp were putting the final touches on their "monster" projects. This is the first year for the girls-only engineering camp led by Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, Hays High School science department chairwoman.

The four-day camp, which ended Thursday, is for girls in seventh to ninth grades. A total of 24 attended this year. There was a waiting list, so Shepherd-Adams expects to offer the camp again next year.

"We've had residential girls' science camps in the summer before, but they've always had a CSI focus," she said.

The year's camp mixed electronics with e-textiles, a movement happening in similar facilities across the country.

"You have guys who are learning to sew, and girls who are learning to put together electronics, so it kind of breaks down the stereotypes," Shepherd-Adams said.

The participants began by making a bookmark to learn about circuitry, she said.

Then they worked with a pre-programed chip to put together different combinations of blinking and fading lights. The final project was a "monster" or stuffed animal that was supposed to play a song they coded or have lights blink in a certain pattern when a button is pressed.

The sewing came as a surprise to some like Maura Halleren, a freshman from Emporia.

"That's not really in my skills," she said.

Halleren is interested in math and science and thinks "a lot of women should pursue careers in them. I like being able to make friends with girls who have the same interests as me."

Calley Burr, a freshman at Sacred Heart Junior and Senior High School in Salina, is "a little bit interested in math and science," but liked doing the projects and making new friends. The camp was a natural for Hays High freshman Katie Weisenborn.

"My dad's an engineer, so he says it's inevitable that I become an engineer too," she said.

The camp also provided hands-on experience for four FHSU undergraduates planning to be math or science teachers.

They were part of the Noyce summer scholars program.

"They've been amazing," Shepherd-Adams said. "They've learned a lot about working with kids and budgeting time."

"I love watching the girls learn something, and they just pick it up so fast," said Carly McCracken, a Noyce summer scholar. "They create all these new programs and make everything their own. It's amazing to watch them."