Approximately 160 seventh-grade girls were on campus recently for STEPS (Science, Technology and Engineering Preview Summer camp for girls), a free program sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

The camp’s goal is to reach girls early enough to influence their choices of math, science and technical courses in middle and high school and prepare them to succeed in college-level engineering programs. It also emphasizes reaching out to underrepresented populations; at least 30 percent of the participants must be people of color.

The girls, mostly from the metro area, designed and constructed tangible objects, including a remote-control airplane. After cutting styrofoam wings with a hot-wire saw and gluing the sections together, assembling the fuselage with foam core and a router, cutting and bending aluminum strips for the rudder and elevator, thermoforming the canopy, and covering the exterior with contact paper (to help with aerodynamics), the planes were ready for takeoff. Volunteers at the Tri-Valley Radio Control Club fitted the planes with small gas-powered engines and stood side-by-side each girl, both with a remote control, to help the planes take off and land.

Volunteer mentors helped the girls learn communication and problem-solving skills. The 18 mentors, mostly women, represented structural, industrial, chemical, mechanical and electrical engineering professions. The mentors plan to keep in touch with the participants and make themselves available to the girls throughout the year.

UST alumnus Anne Coldwell volunteered to coordinate the camp at St. Thomas. Coldwell, manager of quality and reliability engineering at Medtronic, received her master’s degree in manufacturing systems from UST in 1992. She gathered UST faculty, staff, professionals working in the sciences, alumni and other volunteers to help with the program.

Two other alumni, Audrey Geib and Heather Whalton, were camp co-directors who coordinated the girls’ day-to-day activities. Geib graduated in May with a double major in social studies and theology with a minor in secondary education. Whalton ’98, is a seventh-grade American history teacher at Black Hawk Middle School in Eagan.

St. Thomas and Alexandria Technical College, Alexandria, Minn., hosted the STEPS program targeting seventh-grade girls. The University of Minnesota hosted an advanced STEPS for girls in 10th and 11th grade. Over three years, the program will reach approximately 1,400 girls. The program was made possible by a $372,000 grant from the Bush Foundation.

The Minnesota STEPS program will be used as a model for a $10 million dollar initiative involving 11 states over six years and reaching more than 30,000 students.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers awarded St. Thomas’ Engineering and Technology Management Department a three-year grant totalling $112,500 for implementing the program.

St. Thomas will offer STEPS again next summer, starting July 8. For more information, call (651) 962-5750.

The SME Education Foundation’s mission is to serve the manufacturing community by providing support for the advancement of manufacturing education. Since its inception in 1979, SME’s Education Foundation has made cash grants of over $12.8 million and in-kind grants of more than $80 million to 380 different colleges and universities.