2014 G.A.M.E.S. Campers Discover That Engineering Is Not Just for Boys Anymore

A GBAM G.A.M.E.S. camper adjusts her team's windmill during the competition the final day of camp.
A GBAM G.A.M.E.S. camper adjusts her team's windmill during the competition the final day of camp.

July 21, 2014

The week of July 14–18, 190 high school girls (a record number) converged on the engineering campus for the 2014 edition of G.A.M.E.S. (Girls' Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science) camp. Offering eight tracks delving into specific engineering disciplines, G.A.M.E.S. not only gave the campers an opportunity to explore a specific discipline, but also exposed the girls to female role models at all levels (undergraduate and graduate students, as well as practicing engineers). The goal of G.A.M.E.S.: to help girls to discover what Engineering at Illinois is all about, what a career in engineering would be like, and ultimately, to leave confident that they could be engineers.

Down one track from last year (there were two Computer Science tracks), this year’s eight tracks included: Aerospace, Bioengineering, Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Environmental Engineering and Sustainability, GBAM (Girls Building Awesome Machines), GLAM (Girls Learn About Materials), and GLEE (Girls Learning Electrical Engineering).

Angie Wolters (left) and Sahid Rosado, directors of the 2014 G.A.M.E.S. camp.

However, according to Angie Wolters, Associate Director of Women in Engineering, the camp is more than just the girls learning about one engineering discipline: “The big part is the girls getting exposure to engineering,” admits Wolters, “but we’re also really using this as an opportunity for them to learn about the breadth of engineering, and then to also learn about the university. It’s a recruiting piece as well.” So one item on the agenda was having some folks from Admissions do a talk during lunch on Tuesday.

Another important component of the camp was giving the campers female role models. For example, many instructors were female graduate students. Wolters says this year the camp also ramped up the involvement of alums and practicing engineers. While campers were concentrating on one engineering discipline throughout the week, at Wednesday’s Engineering Night event, they got more exposure to the other disciplines as graduate students and practicing engineers, mostly women, shared about their work and served as role models to the girls.

GLEE G.A.M.E.S. camper works at a computer during an activity learning about circuits.

Another role model, Sahid Rosado, who was an instructor in last year’s Environmental Engineering camp, took on the job of Camp Director this year. “I’m very passionate about education,” she admits, which is reflected in her own educational resume. With a Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a Master’s in environmental engineering, Rosado is now working on a Master’s in math education. “I’m very passionate about spreading the word about engineering… So it’s something right up my alley,” she says of G.A.M.E.S., “and it’s something that I’m really passionate about.”

Plus, running G.A.M.E.S. is good practice for what she hopes to do in the future: “I’m from Puerto Rico,” says Rosado, “so I hope to go back home and start some STEM education. We don’t have anything like that at home; so engineering classes for high school girls, that doesn’t even exist.”

And how’s this for a serendipitous coincidence; this year, there was even a camper from Puerto Rico.

Chemical Engineering G.A.M.E.S. camper works on a bath bomb.

Regarding the record number of attendees, Wolters says that their intention was to reach as large a number of girls as possible by advertising early. And it worked. This was the first year that all camps were full by the April deadline, and they were able to fill every track.

Wolters, who was in charge of G.A.M.E.S. last year and knows from experience all the hard work that goes into administrating a live-in camp of this size, revels in the record number of campers.

“I think when you look at the work and the effort that goes into running a program like this from the administrative side,” she says, “but also developing and putting together the curriculum, and the teaching of it, it’s sad to see an empty seat there.”

Wolters also indicates that they’re seeing more applications coming in, and the University has the largest class of incoming freshmen coming to the college. Are any of the new incoming freshmen G.A.M.E.S. alumni? Wolford  knows of at least two young women who attended GLEE camp who will be incoming freshmen this fall.

Also serving as role models, were camp counselors, including two Illinois undergrads who could speak from personal experience because they attended G.A.M.E.S. camp themselves when younger.

Claire Tang (top right) works with BioEngineering G.A.M.E.S. campers on a STEM cell activity.

For example, Claire Tang, a rising sophomore majoring in molecular cellular biology, attended a G.A.M.E.S. camp called Bioimaging in middle school (before G.A.M.E.S. switched to target highschoolers). Held at the Institute for Genomic Biology, the camp showed her what it was like to do research and to use lab instruments. “We got to use a lot of the cool instruments they have there,” says Tang, who adds that they also made research posters about how CO2 affects soybean crops. “It definitely helped spur my interest in science,” she says of the camp. It also evidently spurred her interest in research; Tang wants a career in medical research, possibly in teaching.

Did attending G.A.M.E.S. impact her decision to attend Illinois? “Definitely,” she says. “But I also live here.” She admits that a lot of “townies” choose Illinois. “It definitely showed me a lot of the cool stuff that Illinois has equipment-wise, for research.”

(Plus, attending Illinois runs in the family. Her dad got a Ph.D. from Illinois in Mechanical Engineering.)

What were some of Tang’s responsibilities as camp counselor?  “Make sure the girls don’t get in trouble, they’re not getting lost; just making sure they’re enjoying their time here.”

Another responsibility was to sleep in the dorm with the girls. Did she lose a lot of sleep?

“Actually, I have some that go to sleep quite early,” she admits. “It makes my job easier.”

What was the impact of the camp from her perspective? “A lot of girls come back from class, telling me about their day. And they really enjoy; they emphasize what they like from the classes they’ve been to.”

Does Tang think any will attend Illinois? She thinks so: “Yea, there are some that are definitely considering Illinois. It’s a good sign.”

She hopes that another impact is that the campers realize that there are women engineers.

“Definitely just show that science is not a “boy” thing; there are a lot of females in it. And not to be intimidated by science.  I think a lot of women are hesitant to start engineering because they don’t feel like they belong, when they really do. There are a lot of women in engineering, so I hope they know that they’re not the only ones that enjoy engineering.”

Grace Pakeltis (right) and a GLAM G.A.M.E.S. camper work with memory metals.

Grace Pakeltis, a sophomore in Materials Science, is another ex-G.A.M.E.S. camper who was a counselor this year. Pakeltis attended G.A.M.E.S. the summer before her junior year. She says she originally wanted to go into chemical engineering, so she applied for the chemical engineering camp. However, that camp filled up before she got her application in, and she was relegated to the materials camp.

“So I was like, ‘Ok, I’ll try it out,’ indicates Pakeltis. “So I came to camp, and it was sustainable energy, working with solar cells, little solar-powered cars, and stuff like that. And I fell in love with materials science at that camp, and I totally changed my mind about what I wanted to do…When I got accepted here I was super pumped, and I love it.”

Her dream job? Working with alternative energy, specifically hydrogen fuel cells used in cars, such as some made by Rolls Royce, for example.

Why did Pakeltis do G.A.M.E.S. this summer? “I love the message that G.A.M.E.S. has,” she admits. And like Tang, she also says that message is that girls can be engineers.

“I love just showing girls why engineering is awesome, and how we can change the world doing it.”

Pakeltis also admits that she hopes to increase the number of girls who choose engineering…and Illinois: “A lot of times, the numbers are small for women in engineering, and this university is doing a great job of getting more and more…our numbers are rising. I love being with girls who are passionate about the sciences, and being able to show them new things  and everything that they can do on this campus.”

“This camp does a really good job of showing them experiments as well as lectures,” she adds, “so you get the technical and hands-on experience at the same time.”

Aerospace G.A.M.E.S. campers hitch a ride in a fire engine while learning about safety at Willard Airport.

Besides staying at the dorm with the campers, Pakeltis says Counselors are also in charge of the evening activities. For example, on Monday night, they held G.A.M.E.S. Olympics (Minute to Win It); Tuesday was a photo scavenger hunt; Wednesday night job talks. Friday night’s talent show has evidently been a hit in the past, because camp admistrators, instructors, counselors, and campers alike were excited about it. (Rumor has it the GLAM girls did belly dancing.)

Pakeltis says that attending the G.A.M.E.S. camp as a high schooler helped her choose both her career (Materials Science) and her school (Illinois).  She relates that she attended three engineering camps as a highschooler, but that G.A.M.E.S. gave campers a lot more hands-on experiences, plus a genuine taste of what college is like.

“I love that we got to do complex experiments, we got to see the Clean Room; we got to see the scanning electron microscope; you get to see all these different things that interest you with hands on.  I think that this camp does a fabulous job of making it seem like you’re not necessarily a camper; it’s almost like you’re a college student: this is what we do.”

What impact does Pakeltis hope the camp has on this year’s crop of G.A.M.E.S.-campers? “I would love for them to just fall in love with engineering.”

An Environmental Engineering and Sustainability G.A.M.E.S. camper drives a go-cart powered by biofuel reclaimed from used campus cooking oil.

Indicating that she still talks to and occasionally gets together with friends she made at G.A.M.E.S. camp, who are on campus, she also hopes that the girls make some lasting relationships: “Make some friends here that they can continue to talk to throughout their college career…Kind of creating a support group of girls who love engineering, want to change the world. And that’s really what engineers do. We change the world—make it better.”

Wolters hopes the girls have such a good time, that they want to come back—as students.

“My hope is always for the girls to come and enjoy their week and be inspired. Hopefully they consider coming back here, if not as a camper again, but as a potential student. That this is someplace that they think that, ‘This was great. I can see myself here as a future student.”

Rosado who also wants the girls to go away inspired, also hopes they leave with a new self-confidence that they too could be engineers:

“I think it’s very important for the girls to feel not only inspired by the camp, but feel that they can do this. I remember when I was in high school, sometimes I was like, ‘Engineering!’ And I had this vision in my head that’s so wrong. So to me, it’s to be inspired by engineering, but also not be intimidated by being an engineer, or even any STEM, actually, not just engineering. I would love for them to leave here and say, ‘I can do this. This is something that I can do.”

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.

For additional istem articles on G.A.M.E.S. camp, please see:

2014 GBAM campers work on their design for the windmill competition.
Some 2014 GBAM campers work on their design for the windmill competition.