Discover U

Jan 27, 2006

Lasers, acoustics and the hairs on a fruit fly's leg were all part of the introduction to Physics and careers in applied science local high school girls experienced Tuesday, Jan. 24, during a Discover U workshop at Kettering University.

"Discover U" is a career-oriented series of hands-on workshops in science, math, engineering and technology for girls in grades 10 through 12, sponsored by Kettering University and the Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD).

Discover U is designed to introduce girls to academic and career opportunities through a series of eight day-long events held at the university over the course of the academic year. Each program day focuses on a specific area of engineering, applied science or applied mathematics, with an emphasis on subjects with particular appeal to young women such as Bio-Engineering, Environmental Chemistry, Applied Physics, Occupant Kinematics and Fuel Cells.

Applied Physics was the topic last week when participants performed acoustics experiments, learned how fiber optics worked and how to splice fiber optic cables, and had a chance to look at organic and non organic objects through the university's Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (ESEM), which is where the hairy legs of the fruit fly came in.

In addition to hands-on experiments and laboratory activities supervised by Kettering faculty and undergraduate mentors, the girls also attended sessions on how to prepare for college.

"Kettering is committed to increasing the number of young women who pursue Science, Math, Engineering and Technology (SMET) degrees," said Betsy Homsher, associate dean of Students/director Women Student Affairs. "We know that career paths are rarely set in stone by junior high or even high school, but for many girls that age, opportunities dwindle rapidly as they drop out of advanced mathand science classes."

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) states in "Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail Our Children," that fewer girls than boys take advanced math and science courses in high school and that those gaps persist throughout college and beyond. In fact, though the percentage of female students majoring in engineering has increased steadily over the past several years, there is still a sizeable gap between women's and men's participation in engineering-related fields of study.

"At Kettering University, our pre-college programs for women focus on techniques we feel are proven to increase the number of female students we recruit and retain," Homsher said. "These techniques are mentorship, hands-on laboratory experience, portraying an expectation of success, and the introduction of successful professionals to serve as role models and create awareness about SMET careers."

"Discover U allows us to overcome the most basic reasons why young women do not pursue SMET degrees: they don't know the opportunities exist, they don't know anyone pursuing them, and they don't know the proper steps of preparation for an engineering or technology major," she said.

Participants of the program may attend more than one or all of the eight scheduled programs that began in September 2005.

Discover U is funded by a $20,000 grant from the Engineering Information Foundation (EIF) of New York, and a $4,200 grant from the Merkley Youth Charitable Trust at Citizens Bank in Flint.

Written by Dawn Hibbard