Back On Track: A Look At How LSU Gets Young Women Excited About Engineering

Screenshot. Credit: Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

Screenshot. Credit: Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

Louisiana will be in the spotlight as American Graduate Day features a successful program at Louisiana State University (LSU). It’s called XCITE and it’s getting young girls excited about careers in engineering. This story about the summer program was produced by Louisiana Public Broadcasting aired during the October 2, 2015 edition of “Louisiana: The State We’re In.”

Observing the complexities of drone operation is just one of a dozen activities these high school girls enjoy as part of a unique program at Lousiana State University.

“We are the only program in Louisiana that houses a young women residential camp for students to engage in the field of engineering,” according to Terrica Jamison.

Jamison is the Assistant Recruiting Manager forLSU’s College Of Engineering. She’s also director of its summer program called “XCITE” – the EXploration Camp Inspiring Tomorrow’s Engineers.

Jamison says the goal of XCITE is to really educate students; young women, into the fields of engineering.

“We have eleven degree majors within our college of engineering at LSU.” Jamison says, “Students have the opportunity to tour the campus; stay in a residential dorm; participate in professional development opportunities as well as engage in conversations and experiments with some of our professors and staff.”

The camp is in its seventh year at LSU and allows ninth through eleventh-grade girls to participate in a week of hands-on engineering activities. The hope is to encourage enrollment in one of the university’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or “STEM” degree programs.

U.S. labor statistics show that while women make up 47 percent of the country’s total workforce, they hold less than 28 percent of STEM jobs. Adam Melvin teaches XCITE’s Chemical Engineering session.

“Traditionally engineering has been dominated by males,” Melvin says, “mostly Caucasian males so programs like XCITE are wonderful because they are precisely designed to increase diversity in engineering. We want to bring in people from traditionally underrepresented minorities; especially females.”

For Junior, Lelia Deville, peer pressure is a strong deterrent to girls who want to enter a science career.

“If you’re interested in that people they like to pick on you and say like you’re a nerd; you’re just lame; nobody wants to be friends with you.” Deville says. “You get good grades, you don’t do that. This is high school; you don’t do that; You should be partying.”

For minority women, who hold fewer than 10 percent of Science and Engineering jobs, lack of knowledge about the fields may be the culprit.

According to Dereck Rovaris, LSU’S Vice Provost For Diversity, “When we look at underrepresented minorities, there are tons of studies that have shown that jus the exposure to the options will make a difference. There many times they don’t know there are careers in Nuclear Engineering; or Electrical Engineering or Mechanical. They don’t even conceive of those as options.”

XCITE campers get a taste of 11 engineering fields including Petrochemical, Biological, Electrical and Mechanical. For ninth-grader Kyleigh Hankton-McCurry, the program’s been an eye-opener.

“This experience has made me realize there’s more to science.” Kyleigh says, “Like there’s so many levels to it. It’s fun now. They’ve made me see that this is something I could do for the rest of my life.”

Thanks to the camp, Kyleigh’s now debating a career in Industrial Engineering or Construction Management. But she enjoyed the Computer Science simulation the most.

“My favorite activity was when we got to see this car,” she says, “It was a model of car and we got into it and we got to test it and it was so fun. Some of us couldn’t drive; I could drive; but some of us couldn’t drive and that made it more fun!”
Tenth-grader Daryelle Mitchell liked XCITE’s hands-on aspect. “I like the parts when you get to like touch and know and see and try new things.” Mitchell says.

Daryelle’s family was uprooted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I had to go to a new school in Atlanta; like different places I’ve never been.” Mitchell says. “I had to adapt to; so it was kinda weird; I had to get over it.”

After attending three different schools and surviving a house fire, Daryelle returned with her family to Louisiana to pursue her passion for a college degree.
“I want to be successful in my life and if that means going to college to be successful,” Daryelle says, “Than that’s what I need to do.”
Because of the camp, Daryelle has decided to work as a biological engineer. Rovaris says dreams like Daryelle’s won’t happen unless students are engaged early on.

“That kind of goal will never happen if you don’t receive a college degree; and that college degree won’t happen if you don’t receive a high school degree.” Rovaris points out, “That high school degree won’t happen if you don’t buckle down and study your biology.”

Corporate sponsors like Fluor, one of the world’s largest engineering companies, see the value of helping to keep students like Daryelle on track towards a college degree. Pam Jackson, an Lsu graduate, now works forFluor and attends the camp as a mentor.

“The importance of STEM careers is going to be exemplified during the twenty-first century,” Jackson says, “And the ability to promote graduates into STEM professions is really going to lead to future innovators, future problem solvers and critical thinkers.”

The girls’ problem solving skills were on display during the week as teams designed robots for an underwater “Rescue and Recovery” competition. On the camp’s final day, the event delivered lots of drama and submerged suspense…but ultimately no real losers. As Lelia notes, the entire XCITE experience has strengthened her interest in science even more.

“It may make me lame now,” Lelia says, “But down the road I’m going to have a stable job; I’m going to be loving what I do and I’m going to make enough money to support my family.”

This report is supported by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of our series, Back On Track, in observance of American Graduate Day on Saturday, October 3. 

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