UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In July, the Department of Electrical Engineering in Penn State’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) hosted its third Anything is POssible for Girls in Electrical Engineering (APOGEE) camp. This year, however, the camp proved true to its name in a unique way, as the girls in engineering learned, created and engineered via Zoom.
Due to COVID-19 and the related precautions, the School of EECS’s in-person summer camps were canceled. Tim Kane, professor of electrical engineering and the lead faculty member for the APOGEE camp, saw this setback as an opportunity to take the camp in a new direction: online.
“Planning ahead of camp was different, and the week of camp definitely had a learning curve,” Kane said. “As with camps past, by the end of the week, we started seeing excitement in all the campers, even the quiet ones.”
The five-day camp, which had eight participants, was structured similarly to past years. This year, though, campers picked up kits the week before the camp that included materials they would need to complete projects at home. Several sessions were led by Kane and a small team of undergraduate and graduate students to teach engineering principles and topics such as wearable technology, the Internet of Things and circuits, and the girls also had time to work on their own projects. A virtual panel of women in engineering included women engineers from academia and industry at various stages of their careers who spoke about different job opportunities in engineering and answered campers’ questions. The camp concluded with a showcase, where the campers modeled the projects they created, from wearable technology on hats and jewelry to robotic creations that moved when triggered by light.
“It was so wonderful to have the opportunity to continue with the camp in a virtual format,” said visiting Drawdown scholar and camp assistant Alix Medler, who is a senior at Truman State University. “I was excited to see middle- and high school-aged girls interested in STEM! Every camper brought with them unique perspectives and creative ideas.”
Despite having to adapt to a new format quickly and being unable to assist with projects in person, both Kane and Medler emphasized how impressed they were with the campers for learning and creating in this environment.
“Given I've never worked with this camp before, it was a pleasant surprise to see how quickly the girls picked up how to do the projects, particularly when we were in small groups,” Medler said. “They could sometimes power through the directions faster than the helpers — very smart group of girls!”
To build on this successful experience, the School of EECS plans to host camps geared toward girls in both electrical engineering and computer science and engineering in the summer of 2021. A mixed mode approach — some in-person, some virtual — will allow the camps to address broader, even global, audiences.