July 20, 2011

Fifteen-year-old McKenzie Windham has dreamed of being an engineer since she was a young girl. This summer, Windham has discovered a growing fascination with nearly every facet of engineering, from civil to electrical to mechanical. Still, the teenager’s ultimate passion is chemical engineering, a passion she plans to pursue at LSU.

“I’ve had my eyes set on being a chemical engineer for a long time,” said the sophomore, who attends St. Michael the Archangel High School in Baton Rouge, La. “I think it’s neat how things can change so quickly. Just changing one thing in a chemical compound can make it completely different.”

Windham is one of eleven teenage girls who participated in XCITE, a pre-college summer program hosted by the LSU College of Engineering (CoE) Office for Diversity Programs. Sponsored by Marathon Oil and Fluor corporations, XCITE, or Xploration Camp Inspiring Tomorrow’s Engineers, is a residential summer program for rising freshmen and sophomore high school girls. The weeklong camp introduces girls to engineering principles through hands-on activities, design projects and industry presentations.   

“I love the idea of being able to work with younger people to get them interested in engineering and to see how they shape and mold,” said veteran camp coordinator, Ladesha Moore, a Ph.D. student in engineering sciences. “They take what they learn here and implement it in school. Some of them will come back next year, and to see them grow from this year to the next year is a great feeling.”

XCITE participants are fully immersed in the engineering curriculum. LSU professors and graduate students conducted presentations on the College’s various engineering disciplines. In “Industrial Engineering 101,” the girls learned basics of the engineering field and participated in a task analysis project, where teams devised four tasks for a cell phone’s interface design.

In addition to hands-on activities and lectures, XCITE campers toured the Marathon Oil Refinery in Garyville, La. for a real-world perspective on the engineering industry. For many students, the industry tour was a camp highlight.

“My favorite part was when we visited Marathon, and we were actually able to ask the engineering interns questions. I asked a million questions!” said Jaycelyn Jefferson, a sophomore at Deer Park High School near Houston. “It was very interesting to see the way they handled crude oil. I had a lot of fun.”

XCITE offered something to satisfy every camper’s interest. Varnado High School sophomore, Dayshjauna Nathaniel, loves technology and was thrilled with the electrical engineering circuit demonstration. Second-year camper, Ke’Gan Taylor, a sophomore at Zachary High School, is interested in chemical engineering and medicine. Her favorite activities were meeting one of the chemical engineering professors and experimenting with polymers and chemical reactions.

Evening ACT preparation courses and teamwork challenges balanced the camp’s engineering components. The girls completed the LSU Ropes Challenge Course, where they learned communication, trust and leadership skills. Camp counselor, Megan Barnum, a biological engineering senior, said XCITE teaches life skills and equips the girls with the tools necessary for personal and professional success.

With its emphasis on engineering problem solving, design challenges and workshops, XCITE offers teenage girls a competitive advantage in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Camp counselors hope that exposing the girls to STEM disciplines at an early age will instill in them the confidence and motivation to pursue their college and career goals.

“This camp makes engineering more real,” said Moore. “The girls actually put their hands on it, touch it, feel it, see it, and that makes them know that they can do it.”

To learn more about XCITE, please visit http://www.eng.lsu.edu/diversity/precollege/xcite.


 Article by Aariel Charbonnet, College of Engineering public relations graduate assistant, carcen6@lsu.edu

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