WIE Camp 2014: Creating Community for Female Engineering Students

August 25, 2014

Bottom center and right: Dean Susan Larson, WIE Director and Angie Wolters, WIE Assistant Director,
Bottom center and right: Dean Susan Larson, WIE Director and Angie Wolters, WIE Assistant Director, along with a number of WIE campers, appreciate Gretchen Adams and Don Decoste's antics during their Chemistry Demo.

Dean Susan Larson recalls that when she took over as the Director of Women in Engineering (WIE) in 2003, she thought, "The women need something to get started. They're a minority, but if they know one another, they'll be ok. They'll form a community; they'll make those connections." So, hoping to "bring them all together to get to know one another and get to know the campus and some of the instructors and advisors here," she started WIE Camp.

Still going strong in its 12th year, the 2014 WIE Camp did all that Larson originally envisioned as 255 female engineering students arrived on campus for freshman orientation. The camp's activities, while fun, were designed to foster community building and to help the girls establish a support system as they built key relationships and learned about campus supports available.

WIE campers on the scavenger hunt take a brief break on the portico behind Engineering Hall.

For example, a trip to the Challenge Course at Allerton Park's 4-H Memorial Camp emphasized team concepts needed to succeed in college. A scavenger hunt to places such as Engineering Hall's advising office and the Undergraduate Library helped familiarize girls with campus. During their highly entertaining Chemistry demo, Gretchen Adams and Don Decoste interjected key dos and don'ts designed to help campers adjust to life as college students.

The all-time high number of 255 campers reflects the increased number of women accepting admission to the Engineering in 2014 (a 27% increase over the last two years). In fact, Engineering has dubbed 2014, "The Year of the Woman."

Faced with what WIE Assistant Director Angie Wolters called, "this amazing problem of so many girls," camp organizers worked hard to make the big group feel small so girls could make connections.

2014 WIE campers, counselors, and directors on the Engineering Quad.

"Because we have such a large number, we're doing some things this year to make it feel smaller," admits Wolters. For example, girls ate lunch with others from their department; ate dinner with girls from their residence halls; and rotations on the Challenge Course were also with girls in their major.

The camp also introduced girls to key people they can contact for help or advice, such as Larson and Wolters. "So they know we're here," stresses Wolters, "and we're housed in Engineering Hall, and we're a resource for them."  Other role models were WIE Camp's three student coordinators, plus 43 counselors, who each acted as a mentor and guide to around five or six campers.

Left to right: 2014 WIE Camp Student Coordinators Danielle Tene, Lauren Milling, and Sarah Laken; WIE administrative assistant Robin Ennis; and WIE Assistand Director Angie Wolters.

All three 2014 student coordinators, Sarah Laken, Lauren Milling, and Danielle Tene, attended WIE camp as freshmen, plus were counselors in previous camps. "So it's not only Dean Larson and myself in front of the girls," says Wolters, "but they see these girls, who not only share the information about what we're doing for the day, but they're walking up to them and talking to them and taking their hand when they need it."

Wolters says the three seniors were chosen because they're great leaders: "Each year, I'm looking at who's involved, and who serves as great role models for the girls, and who steps up. These are the three that would see a girl sitting by themselves and approach them to get that student involved."

Plus, Wolters hopes the freshmen will look up to these girls as role models that they can emulate:

"But they're all great leaders in their own way, and that's what we want the girls who are attending to see—that they have those same kinds of opportunities. That's one of those things we want them to walk away from WIE Camp knowing about—what it is you can get involved in; how you can lead; how you can make a difference; what is your story at Illinois going to be? For these girls, part of their story is WIE Camp."

continued in Part 2: Meet the 2014 WIE Camp Student Coordinators