STEPS camp in full swing at St. Thomas

STEPS (Science, Technology and Engineering Preview Summer camp for girls) is underway for the ninth year at St. Thomas. About 160-200 girls participate in the free camp each summer, or about 40 in each of the five weeklong sessions. By the end of the final session on July 24, more than 1,400 girls will have participated in the camps since the program came to St. Thomas in 2000.

"We know that young people start making career decisions around sixth or seventh grade," said Dr. Ronald Bennett, founding dean of the School of Engineering at St. Thomas. "We also know that when it comes to earning bachelor’s degrees in engineering, men outnumber women by five to one. The difference is even more pronounced in the fields of electrical and mechanical engineering. Our ultimate goal in hosting the STEPS program is to encourage young women to consider careers in these fields. Plus, it’s a lot of fun for them, and for us."

The girls attending the St. Thomas program this summer live on campus and take classes in plastics, electricity, machining, computer-aided design, assembly, Web design, chemistry, physics, engineering and robotics.

Campers, all entering the ninth grade this fall, in the advanced camp June 15-19 created rockets from start to finish using soda bottles and filling them with water. Bike pumps were used to create pressure within the bottles, propelling them skyward

Girls in the basic camp, which began June 23 and continue through July 24, create airplanes from start to finish: using a hot-wire saw, they cut wings from sturdy Styrofoam; assemble the fuselage; cut, bend and install aluminum parts for the rudder and elevators; thermoform the canopy; and finally decorate and cover the plane’s exterior.

They also log computer time with a flight simulator to become familiar with the remote-control devices they’ll use to fly their planes.

Their work is put to the test on Wednesday evenings, also called "fly nights," when the girls head south to Rosemount where the planes are fitted with gas engines and flown with the help of volunteers from the Tri-Valley Radio Control Flyers.

Girls participating in the basic camp will start seventh grade this fall.

Dr. Kaye Smith, the School of Engineering ‘s 3M Chair Fellow and a former 3M research engineer, is the STEPS camp coordinator. The camp director, Marika Staloch, started with the program in 2000 as a counselor.

Sponsors of this year’s camp are the Medtronic Foundation, Lockheed Martin, 3M Foundation, Xcel Energy, Society of Manufacturing Engineers Education Foundation, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Peregrine Capital Management, Pentair Foundation, Tri-Valley Radio Control Flyers, Ecolab, Emerson Process Management Rosemount and the St. Thomas School of Engineering.

More information about the program can be found on the Web at: http://www.stthomas.edu/engineering/STEPS/.