Posted on Jul 22, 2010

On a recent weekday morning, a group of high school girls gathered in the robotics design studio in the F.W. Olin Center, where they began working on a project for children with special needs.

EDGE 2010 Right one. Linda Almstead

What they were really learning was how to apply engineering principles to real-world applications.

For some, the experience will inspire a career in engineering. As the gender gap persists for women pursuing engineering careers, that’s the goal of EDGE (EDucating Girls for Engineering). Union has hosted the two-week residential camp since 2002.

In 2009, the percentage of women enrolled in undergraduate engineering programs at schools in the U.S. and Canada was only 18.2 percent. The numbers are even more sobering in the engineering workforce, where women comprise just over 11 percent.

There have been numerous studies and much debate trying to explain why women continue to lag far behind men in engineering, but little improvement. That’s why camps like EDGE are so important, said Cherrice Traver, dean of engineering at Union.

“Showing young women how their creativity can be combined with their quantitative skills to prepare them for a career that benefits humanity is what the EDGE program is all about,” said Traver. “It is a powerful experience that has been continuously improved over several years by some exceptional staff.”

The camp, which began July 18, runs through July 30. During the two weeks, 20 girls from across the country will learn about basic engineering principles, attend communication and public speaking workshops, and go on field trips to places like GE Healthcare and Jiminy Peak, where they will tour the wind turbine. They will also present the toys adapted for the children at Northwoods at Hilltop in nearby Niskayuna.

EDGE 2010 Right one.

Sue Gestwick ’05 is the resident teacher, with help from several faculty members. Counselors include Katie Sophia ’10, Elizabeth Bocchino ’11, Vadim Yerokhin ’11 and Gina Riggins ’13. The program is coordinated by Jenny Moon Lippman ’03.

Sponsors include the Northrop Grumman Foundation, Jerome A. Schiff Charitable Trust and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

Union has a rich tradition with engineering. In 1845, Union became the first liberal arts college to offer engineering. For the last three years, the College has hosted academic leaders from more than a dozen top colleges and universities for a national symposium, “Engineering and Liberal Education.”