Back in the days before gifs and ride-sharing, it was unusual to see middle-schoolers using soldering irons in Kingsbury Hall in the middle of summer. Today, that’s a more common sight.
Last week, 62 middle- and high-school-aged girls completed a week of rocketry, robotics, animation and other engineering projects as part of “Engineeristas,” one of several summer Tech Camps offered by the UNH College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS). This summer’s Engineeristas celebrated Friday during a ceremony with faculty, family and other special guests, including New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, whose daughter attended the camp.
They are New Hampshire’s next generation of engineers and technologists, and during the ceremony, Tech Camp director Carmela Amato-Wierda implored campers’ families to help keep their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fires burning. “We are creating critical thinkers and problem-solvers,” she said. “The world needs these young women, so my request of you is that when they leave here today and you go back home, keep encouraging them. They have awesome talents.”
Tech Camp was the brainchild of CEPS professor Bob Henry, who envisioned it as a way to increase STEM literacy among New Hampshire students and help develop tomorrow’s workforce. That was back in 2006. During that first year, 28 girls and boys participated in Tech Camps. This summer alone, more than 400 students are participating.
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Engineeristas is for girls entering grades 6-8 and is designed to empower young women to pursue STEM interests and careers. The campers explore a new engineering topic each day during the weeklong program, and they hone team-building and social skills during group exercises. In the more advanced Engineeristas Extraordinaire camp, girls entering grades 6-11 work in-depth on one engineering project for the entire week. Participants say being immersed in a program with other young women who enjoy STEM is one of the most important aspects of the Engineeristas experience, according to Amato-Wierda.
“We want these students to get to know what it’s like to be part of the UNH community,” said interim Provost Wayne Jones, noting that, like the Engineeristas, UNH students work on real-world problems in classes, labs and more than 1,500 paid internships. Jones said he hopes many of this year’s Tech Camp participants “will become UNH students of the future.”
UNH President James Dean congratulated the campers and their families before introducing Gov. Sununu.
“As an engineer myself, and as a parent, a dad, of my daughter, who has come to this program, it’s awesome. It really is,” Sununu said. “It’s about critical thinking. It’s about thinking outside the box. It’s about challenging yourselves, building teamwork, problem-solving. All of these things enter all of our lives in so many different ways. This is one of those programs that you really want to get behind and see what you can do to keep it growing.”
“There are so many high-tech jobs out there,” Sununu added. When it comes to encouraging young women to pursue STEM careers, “This is the future.”