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Women in Engineering Camp Facilitates Relationship Building

August 30, 2012

WIE campers cheer on a teammate during the Freshman Orientation Camp.
Campers cheer on a teammate using the rope swing at the "Tarzan" station at Allerton Park 4-H Memorial Camp's Challenge Course during Women in Engineering's Freshman Orientation Camp.
Women participating in the WIE Freshman Orientation Camp gather at Loomis Lab for an introductory session.
Women participating in the WIE Freshman Orientation Camp gather at Loomis Lab for an introductory session..

On Monday, August 20th, 200+ women enrolled in the College of Engineering at Illinois converged on Loomis Lab for breakfast and orientation sessions, then toured campus and experienced relationship building at Allerton Park as a part of the Women in Engineering Freshman Orientation Camp. According to Angie Wolters, Assistant Director of Women in Engineering, the purpose of the camp was to "engage them, introduce them to the College of Engineering on campus, and give them an opportunity to all come together and create a cohort for their incoming freshman class of women."

WIE camper climbs the tall wall with the help of her teammates.
WIE camper climbs the tall wall with the help of teammates.

The overarching goal of Women in Engineering (WIE), according to Wolters, is the recruiting and retention of women in the College of Engineering. A part of Engineering's Undergraduate Programs Office, WIE addresses recruiting through programs like GAMES camp, which, along with outreach, is part of its recruiting pipeline. WIE's recruiting goal: get girls interested in STEM and, specifically, in engineering. Regarding the other branch of WIE's goal—retention—one of the important programs that just took place is the WIE Freshman Orientation Camp. Participating in WIE camp allows the girls to move onto campus on Sunday, four days before official move-in on Thursday, using the extra time to get acclimated and build relationships with other freshman women.

After breakfast and early registration on Monday morning, the potential women engineers filled Loomis Lab's giant lecture hall for a welcome session, which included orientation sessions about what college is going to be like, how to be successful in the classroom, and valuable lessons learned by current upperclassmen, in hopes that the "rookies" can avoid making the same mistakes.

Later that day, the girls bussed 20 miles to the Allerton Park 4-H Memorial Camp in Monticello; they spent Monday night eating s'mores around a campfire and getting to know one another. Tuesday was devoted to building relationships and taking teamwork principles they learned on the challenge course and applying them to future situations on campus and in the classroom.

WIE camper uses the rope swing station, while teammates wait to catch her.
Teammates wait to catch fellow camper on the "Tarzan" station's rope swing.

WIE leader Val Laguna, an engineering senior who helped plan and run the camp, felt that the camp met its goals of relationship building: "I think it's been really successful so far. And I'm really excited for this year. All the counselors seem to be really engaged, and the campers seem to be taking initiative to get to know each other…But the campers this year seem especially engaged…I think it is a combination of how the schedule is set up, as well as the quality of the counselors that we have this year, and just general enthusiasm. Hopefully we're instilling the energy they'll need to step into the school year. They're getting a lot of resources. We're going to do a student panel later to ask questions, and we're going to do a short presentation: "Here are some of the things we don't want you to forget." So I think it's going to be really good."

Val shared one other important bit of information: "T-shirt colors are being very well received, that's always our biggest concern."

Freshman campers agreed that the camp had been a positive experience. Incoming civil engineering freshman, Hannah Lohman, related that at a luncheon for women in engineering she had attended, they had recommended that she attend WIE camp, "because it's where you meet your best friends, and it just sounded like fun...and you get to move in early." So she did. Lohman believes that to "just have a group to be a part of" will be beneficial during her career at Illinois: "I think it's going to be cool to be a part of a group where everyone is going through the same thing. If I have any problems with school work, then I can just come to the older students."

WIE campers canoing.
WIE campers take advantage of the opportunity to do some canoeing.

Dani Harkins, who is currently in physics but may switch to industrial engineering, thinks the relationships she made during the camp will be important. "I think the whole thing with knowing who you can study with will be helpful… Obviously, a lot of these people are going to be in the same classes as me, and they're mostly the same intelligence level, so we'll probably need help together…Because I'm not one that likes to admit when I need help. If I need help, I can go to a peer instead of asking a professor."

Saachi Kuwayama, a freshman in general engineering, agreed that attending the camp was a great beginning to her career at Illinois. "I have high expectations. Everyone is so passionate about engineering. So I think that meeting everyone, and talking to everyone, and going to all the presentations that we've been to definitely gets me really excited. I think that my years here are going to be really good."

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

Photos by Elizabeth Innes and Christy Glaze,
I-STEM Education Initiative

For more related stories, see: Engineering, WIE, Women in STEM, 2012

Camper on tire swing station.
Camper works to master the challenge course's "Tire Traverse" station.
Camper traversing the tire swing station on the Challenge Course.
Camper negotiating the"Tire Traverse" station on the challenge course.