2015 GAMES Camps Recruit Girls to the STEM Pipeline...and Engineering

A GLEE camper shakes off a previous moment of frustration over something that didn't go quite right while building her LED calculator.

July 17, 2015

Just about everyone who helped run this summer’s eight, week-long GAMES  (Girls’ Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science) camps from June 7th–July 18th (see schedule below) would unashamedly admit hoping to influence the 199 high school girls who attended to choose engineering as a career—and to come to Illinois to learn all about it. And GAMES appears to have a pretty good track record of doing just that, because several Illinois students who served as lab assistants/counselors this summer attended GAMES themselves and admit that it impacted their decision to go into engineering.

For example, Elizabeth Sanders, a rising Illinois sophomore studying chemical engineering, participated in GAMES for 6 years. She started as a 6th grader back when GAMES was still for middle school girls, and attended through the summer before her junior year in high school.

Sanders admits that a career in engineering has pretty much always been a done deal: “I’ve always kind of wanted to go into some sort of engineering,” she admits. And Dad probably had something to do with that. An engineer himself (also head of Illinois’ ECE Department), he introduced her to GAMES:

“I found out about it from my dad,” she admits. “I went my first year and absolutely loved it.”

Elizabeth Sanders & Kendron Stoklosa
Left to right: Elizabeth Sanders interacts with 2015 Environmental Engineering GAMES participant Kendron Stoklosa during a hands-on activity about ammonia.

While attending GAMES didn’t really decide her career, it did play a part in Sanders’ choosing chemical engineering over her dad’s discipline of choice: electrical.

“When I went, it was chemical engineering combined with bio engineering, and that one really intrigued me. I’ve always been more interested in the bio/chem kind of stuff. It was nice to have that kind of solidify my choice…it made me really interested in that field.”

While still deciding which discipline she wanted to go into, Sanders appreciated GAMES’ kind of “engineering smorgasbord” approach, which she says “really got me excited about all the different fields of engineering. One thing I do love about GAMES is you do get to experience all the different fields. I did structures, which was civil engineering; they don’t have that one anymore, but we did a lot of stuff with materials and building. We built these cardboard boats. I did this bioimaging, which was a totally different spectrum where we looked at plant cells. You really get a nice look at all the different fields.”

During the Chemical Engineering GAMES camp, Sanders (right) does a hands-on activity with students, using an extruder machine to create thin plastic films from polymer pellets.

Once she gets her chemical engineering degree, Sanders hopes to help improve others’ lives/health. Her dream job? Drug and cancer research in the pharmaceutical world.

Why did Sanders spend the summer working with GAMES instead of lounging by the pool? Ironically, she’s been planning on being a GAMES counselor for years now. “Going into high school, I thought it’d be really cool to be a counselor, and finally I came to U of I. It’s really nice to give back to the program that gave me so much joy through my middle school and high school years.”

Tara Tripp (right) works with a GLEE GAMES camper on her LED calculator.

Another Illinois engineering student, Tara Tripp, who served as a lab assistant in the GLEE (Girls Learn Electrical Engineering) camp this summer participated in three GAMES camps as a girl: CS robotics, GLEE, and CS apps. How much impact did GAMES have?

“Well, it had a lot of impact on both going into the field and coming here. I knew that I wanted to go into robotics, and I was trying to figure out what I needed to do to get there. But I knew that mechanical and electrical and computer engineering were all interesting parts of the field, but I ultimately wound up finding that I had a lot more fun with the circuits and the hands-on activities. This camp is really great at that, because we get to build a lot of things. And that was really what got me into it.”

Tripp, a rising sophomore in ECE started out in Electrical Engineering, but has since switched to Computer Engineering, “Because I really enjoy coding,” she reports. "It’s a whole lot of fun."

Tripp also believes GAMES is a good recruiting vehicle, not just to get girls into engineering, but to Illinois: "It’s a great program, just to get girls into engineering and to get them familiar with the campus. One of the reasons that I came here was because of GAMES camp, because I was made familiar with the campus, and I knew that the staff was great. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a really good program."

Rebecca Cole, an Illinois sophomore in electrical engineering who served as a 2015 GAMES camp lab assistant and counselor

Another former GAMES camper who actually went to GLEE the same year as Tripp is lab assistant/ counselor Rebecca Cole, who admits that it was what drew her to Engineering and Illinois. Cole is helping with GAMES this summer in order to "pay it forward."

“I’m doing GAMES partly to give back and help others experience what I experienced,” she acknowledges.

Cole, a rising sophomore in electrical engineering, says participating in GAMES helped her believe that she could be an engineer, specifically in electrical:

“I attended GAMES camp for one year right before my junior year. I attended GLEE, which is the electrical engineering one…Coming out of GAMES, it really showed me, ‘I can do this; I can be an engineer.’ That kind of solidified that I really wanted to be an engineer. It got me to thinking about what type of engineering, and electrical was fun because we did a lot of hands-on wiring stuff and soldering. That was really like, “I want to do this for a job.”

Did GAMES also influence her choice of Illinois? Cole says, “Yes.”

“It got me thinking about Illinois,” she says. In love with Boston, she had originally applied to two schools out in Massachusetts, including MIT. But she admits, “My parents made me apply to Illinois because I really loved it coming out of GAMES. I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up finding my way back to Illinois, and I’m so glad I came here, because it’s one of the best campuses for what we’re doing.”

Cole is quite passionate about our society’s needing more engineers to solve many of its ills:  

Computer Science GAMES campers wait to compete the robots they built.

“The older generations have caused difficulties in terms of pollution and everything. High schoolers are the next generation, and they’re the ones that are going to change it. We’re the generation that’s going to have to fix it, and the way that we’re going to fix that is with engineers.”

To meet this need for more engineers, she’s all about recruiting more students, especially girls, and she believes GAMES camp is a great way to get more girls to choose engineering…and Illinois.

Illinois understands that. The things Illinois does here…they’re really taking a step back and looking at high schoolers. And that’s why females are really good. Everybody is trying to push engineering because it’s the future, and I think engineering at Illinois is one of the best places for it.”

So Cole’s mission is to convince girls that they’re just as good as boys, and, as in her own experience, that they can be engineers.

“A lot of people, because you’re a girl, look down on you and are like, “Girls can’t do what guys can do,” says Cole. “And that’s even in sports and stuff. And so I really firmly believe that we need to be teaching girls that they can do it. So GAMES is a really good way of empowering young females to go through with things and do things that people say they can’t.”

Two Bioengineering GAMES campers take readings on vials of liquid using a spectrophotometer they built.

(In an aside, Cole is on a one-woman crusade to prove that girls are as good as boys. “Proving that stereotypes are wrong is one of my favorite things to do,” she admits. In fact, Cole’s theme song should be Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” from Annie Get Your Gun: “I play hockey,” she confesses. “It’s like, ‘Boys are always the rough ones.’ But I’m one of the roughest people on the ice. I can throw my weight around with everybody else.”)

Any engineers in this year’s crop? “Oh yeah,” Cole responds. “I think a strong majority of these girls are going to be engineers. They all have the drive and the passion for it…they all have a really good love for science and math, and I think a lot of them will be.”

Bioengineering GAMES camp Coordinator Jenny Amos

Like Cole, the Coordinator of Bioengineering GAMES, Jenny Amos, also hopes to convince girls that they can do engineering:

“We’re just trying to get them motivated and to self-identify themselves as scientists and engineers, because they can do it, and we know they can!”

While her camp had a career panel telling girls how to apply to Bioengineering (BioE), Amos says their goal is to at least lure them into STEM: “We want them to at least pick a science or engineering for their future. That’s our goal for this camp, is to motivate them and help them see themselves as scientists and engineers.”

Aerospace GAMES camper Brina Jones shows off the rocket she built.

Why does Amos run the camp? “I love interacting with young people and students," she responds, "and girls in particular. We want to help motivate them that science and engineering are for them, and they are good at it, and increase the number of women in engineering.”

Amos admits that she participates in GAMES to recruit more girls into STEM, and engineering, in general, even if its not BioE. Though her own department, BioE, is about 50%-50% in terms of gender, she explains that most of the other departments are comprised of less than 10% females, so she’d like to improve those odds:

“So even if the girls don’t come to bio, we’re showing them how broadly applicable engineering is, that they can go to electrical and still work with the human body.”

And GAMES still appears to be working its magic. When asked what she learned from the Aerospace GAMES camp this summer, Brina Jones, a rising senior from Chicago, reports learning about a lot of aerospace principles: momentum, aeronautics, aerodynamics, orbits, structures and materials of aircrafts. “There was a lot of physics," she adds, "and some calculus references in there too.”

So did the exposure to Aerospace during GAMES camp convince Jones that she should become an engineer? “Oh, I know I’m going to be an engineer” she announces. And of all the engineering disciplines, is she going to choose aerospace? “I think so,” she says.

During the 2013 GLAM GAMES camp, Kendron Stoklosa (center) does a hands-on project evaluating a material: chocolate.

Another 2015 GAMES camper, Kendron Stoklosa, also announced that she intends to become an engineer.

I first encountered Stoklosa in 2013 in the GLAM (Girls Learn About Materials) GAMES camp (see photo on the left). She was doing a hands-on activity that used a material most girls (of any age) would love to work with…chocolate.

So I was delighted to run into her again this summer. After having attended three different GAMES camps over the last three years and being exposed to their corresponding engineering disciplines (she delved into Chemical Engineering last year and Environmental Engineering this year), has Stoklosa narrowed it down to a specific discipline?

“I want to be a materials engineer,” she announced. (No doubt that hands-on activity working with chocolate swayed her in the direction of materials.) Actually, she wants to double major in both materials engineering and marketing.

What has Stoklosa learned from her stint over the last three years?

“Coming to GAMES has taught me that I can be anything I want to be,” she says.

Kendron Stoklosa (left) and another Environmental Engineering camper work to complete a hands-on project measuring ammonia in samples.

Her advice to other girls?  Although she herself fell in love with the first one she tried; I believe Stoklosa would tell girls that engineering is somewhat like an ice cream shop; take a taste of one flavor, and if you don’t like it; try another.

“It’s not just one option," she explains, "but there’s many options, and that you never can say that you don’t like something if you haven’t tried it.”

Another 2015 GAMES camper who has been significantly impacted by participating in Illinois' engineering camp circuit is Jasmin Tweedle. I first encountered Jasmin at a ChicTech retreat put on by Women in Computer Science in spring of 2014. In addition to participating in GLEE GAMES this summer, Tweedle has also participated in G-BAM, Mechanical Engineering's GAMES camp.

GLEE GAMES camper Jasmin Tweedle (right) and two fellow campers brainstorm about the LED calculators they're making.

Has Tweedle decided if she's going into engineering and, if so, which discipline?

I’m definitely going to do Computer Science," she says. "I remember when I talked to you last time, I was kind of on the fence about it, but I’m definitely going to do CS."

Tweedle reports learning a lot about circuits this summer and how engineering and the field of electrical engineering, specifically, is related to our daily lives.

In addition to being a poster child for Illinois STEM camps, Tweedle is also a recruiter:

“If any other girls read this: Go to GAMES camp. Go do more engineering stuff. It’s definitely worth it.

Aerospace Engineering G.A.M.E.S. camper
An Aerospace Engineering GAMES camper waits to test the glider she built.

2015 GAMES Schedule

June 14–20
  • G-BAM (Girls Building Awesome Machines)
  • GLAM (Girls Learn About Materials)
June 21–27
  • Computer Science: Robotics
  • Environmental Engineering
July 5–11
  • Aerospace
  • Bioengineering
July 12–18
  • Chemical Engineering
  • GLEE (Girls Learning Electrical Engineering)

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.
More: 8-12 Outreach, GAMES, GAMES: Summary, Women in STEM, Summer Camp, 2015

For additional istem articles on GAMES camp, see:

An Illinois ECE engineering student (right), Brittany Joy, who's serving as a GLEE GAMES camp lab assistant this summer helps a camper with the LED calculator she's building.