August 14, 2013

In an attempt to generate higher female interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, the College of Engineering Office for Diversity Programs hosts the annual eXploration Camp for Inspiring Tomorrow’s Engineers, or XCITE. This summer program is targeted at rising ninth- and tenth-grade female students to introduce them to the field of engineering. Attendees participated in hands-on demonstrations, field trips and networking with female industry professionals.

Despite women comprising almost half of the U.S. workforce, they hold only 24 percent of STEM jobs, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Cynthia Wagener, an LSU College of Engineering alumna, an environmental engineer for ExxonMobil and a professional at the camp’s industry luncheon, recalled once reading a quote stating, “As women rise, the world rises.”

“Women and men have different ways of thinking, so having a diverse workforce would strengthen a company,” Wagener said.

Thirty-eight high school girls representing Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Ohio, Alabama and Florida attended XCITE this year, which is the largest number since the program began five years ago.

Participants learned about the variety of engineering fields through demonstrations that represented every department within the College of Engineering, including a computer science module demonstration facilitated by the Louisiana Women in Technology (LaWIT) organization.

For Taelor Nelor, a ninth grade student from Shreveport, La., this was her first time attending this camp.

“I was excited,” she said. “I’d never been to this camp before. I wanted to try it because I like to try new things.”

The students were able to work in the mud lab with LSU’s Dr. Frederick Thurber, Coordinator of Academic Affairs in the Craft & Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering, and create bone scaffolds with biological engineering Ph.D. candidate Nick Totaro. They also toured the LaHouse Home and Landscape Resource Center and visited Marathon’s refinery in Garyville, La. At Marathon, participants interacted with female interns as well as young professional women engineers, which allowed them to ask questions about the college and career experiences of females in engineering fields.

XCITE participants also networked with current female College of Engineering faculty and students and professional women engineers at an industry luncheon.

Cameron Larks, incoming biological engineering freshman and guest at the industry luncheon, said that she attended XCITE when she was in high school, and it helped her choose to pursue engineering.

“The connections I made with faculty and industry at XCITE were very important,” Larks said. “XCITE not only helped me to decide to come to LSU, but also to be an engineer.”

The highlight of the program is often the design challenge. This year, students were asked to create a toy or game that would demonstrate STEM principles and encourage girls between the ages of three and 12 to develop an interest in engineering. The idea was generated from a read-and-build game called Goldie Blox, which was developed by female engineer Debbie Sterling from Stanford and targeted specifically at young girls.

At the closing session, participants presented their designs and prototypes, which ranged from board games and build-along telescopes to “hamster” challenge courses and even iPhone and iPad apps.

“The projects were amazing,” said Judea Goins-Andrews, XCITE director and assistant director for Diversity Programs within the College of Engineering. “The creativity of the students never ceases to amaze me.”

Goins-Andrews said that one of the most impressive designs was for the app Ruby’s Daily Duties, which incorporated Rube Goldberg design concepts into a game that taught the user math and physics skills. The group created colorful and detailed story boards to demonstrate what each level of the program would look like to the user.

“Girls are interested in being engineers, they just need someone to explain and demonstrate what engineers actually do,” Goins-Andrews said. “Girls need to learn that engineers are innovative and creative, designers and problem solvers. Girls also need to learn that, as females, they add unique ideas and viewpoints when developing solutions or products. XCITE provides an empowering environment for girls to learn all these things and experience engineering through hands-on activities. Most importantly, XCITE allows girls to meet other girls who are just like them – intelligent, academically motivated and interested in engineering. Then participants get to meet their ‘future selves’ through the networking events. XCITE is creating the next generation of female engineers.”

XCITE is sponsored by Marathon Oil, Fluor Corporation and Dow Chemical Company. 

For more information about XCITE, click here

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Article written by Elise Bernard, communications intern. For more information, contact Mimi LaValle, College of Engineering, mlavall@lsu.edu or (225) 578-5706. 



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