When you think of summer camp, you usually think of silly songs, lots of new games and running around in the woods exploring. Except at GADgET, its 16 participants spent part of their summer learning how to use SolidWorks and visiting several manufacturing companies in the Chicago area. The program aims to provide its all-girl participants aged 12 to 16 with a window into the engineering and manufacturing world and empower them to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and manufacturing) careers.
Short for Girls Adventuring in Design, Engineering & Technology, the first GADgET camp ran in 2011, running for just one week with an initial grant from the Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation. As interest grew, so did opportunities for participants. The camp ran for two weeks in June this year. “The kids were so excited, so they learned a lot, but they wanted to do more. It was an interest by the family members and the youth [that brought the two week camp],” said Antigone Sharris, coordinator, engineering technology at Triton College and camp co-director.
This year, in addition to learning SolidWorks, the girls visited Century Metal Spinning, ACE Metal Crafts and Mars Candy. On their tours, they talked to women who have made careers in the engineering as company owners, heads of marketing, accountants, process engineers and more. “It’s intentionally designed to empower these girls to realize that they can do anything and the diversity of the career pathways and that the world of manufacturing is not strictly gearhead engineering,” Sharris said.
The youth participants also got to show off their skills by making their own products. At ACE Metal Crafts, they helped create the design for a cellphone holder and saw it created on site. Throughout the session, they then created their own final gadget. One participant, Kayla, who enjoys theatre, made a “Phantom of the Opera” mask and a carousel with the design software. She said her favorite part about being in GADgET was “learning about engineering and the SolidWorks program.”
While Kayla was interested in engineering before GADgET, and she says visiting and talking with women in the field “was helpful to see what kinds of experiences women have had when they were trying to get themselves involved in the career and field of engineering. They did help to give an idea of what each field of engineering is like.” She hopes to pursue a career in the field, but is still figuring out what she specifically wants to do.
Sharris says the biggest reason to support girls in STEM careers is so we can encourage diversity throughout the design process. She notes that women can bring ideas and insight to how products are manufactured. “We need diversity across the board. When it comes to left brain thinking, right brain thinking, we need all types of brains. And to deny the female side of the equation is a big problem,” she added.
GADgET will be entering its fifth year next summer, and while the specifics are still in the works, one thing is guaranteed — it’ll have a whole new pack of excited participants ready to learn.
Throughout the U.S., almost all major CAD software developers — Autodesk, SolidWorks, Siemens PLM Software, and PTC, to name but a few — offer low-cost educational licenses to introduce their brands to aspiring engineers in high schools and universities. The software makers’ ongoing partnership with FIRST, a series of national robotic competitions, is another example of their outreach efforts aimed at students who have shown an interest in design, engineering, and robotics.
Programs like City X workshop, Makers’ Factory Summer and Spring Break Camps, and Southern Polytechnic State University’s 3D Printing and Engineering Camp employ a mix of hands-on 3D modeling, physical prototyping, and 3D printing to attract young people. Triton College’s GADgET fills a special need by fostering early STEM education among young women to offset the traditionally male-dominated engineering fields.