Engineering Summer Program:
Engaging women and students of color
In the Tong Auditorium at the Engineering Centers Building, a group of traditionally underrepresented high school students and their instructors watch a video. In it, one of their fellow students slides her fist into the end of an S-shaped piece of metal and foam. She then hooks the other end around a doorknob and swings her arm, opening the door. The onlookers nod in approval. The prototype designed to help people who have lost the use of their hands is a success.
The demonstrator, an African American young woman from Milwaukee, is one of 26 high-achieving students who attended the 2009 Engineering Summer Program (ESP) , which ran from June 21 to July 31. ESP is designed to encourage students underrepresented in engineering, including students of color and women of all backgrounds, to pursue a degree in engineering.
Now in its 37th year, ESP is the longest-running pre-college initiative at UW-Madison. ESP is the last and most intensive link in a pipeline of College of Engineering pre-college programs aimed at building relationships and enhancing diversity in the college. For the past five years, almost 60 percent of ESP participants have gone on to attend UW-Madison, and each year, between 10 and 15 percent of incoming engineering students of color are ESP alumni.
For six weeks, the junior- and senior-level participants, who were selected from more than 150 applicants, stay in the Lakeshore dorms. They take rigorous academic enrichment courses, listen to faculty and corporate guest speakers, and visit businesses around the state to learn more about life as an engineering student and professional.
“By the end of the program, the students have strengthened their math, science and communication skills and have a clearer picture of the areas of engineering that interest them,” says Molly Davis, ESP director and assistant director for pre-college programs in the Diversity Affairs Office .
“This really is a life-changing experience for students,” she says. “They have the grades and the drive, but they leave the program with the tools and network to really succeed.”
The experience culminates in the public presentation of team design projects that challenge students to use their engineering instruction to brainstorm, fabricate and test a prototype. This year, students were tasked with designing a product for people who have lost the use of their hands. In addition to the door opener, teams engineered a special cane, eyeglass remover, computer mouse and can holder.
The program is entirely free to students, thanks in part to sponsorships by Halliburton Corp., Abbott Laboratories, and Rockwell Automation. The UW-Madison campus-wide PEOPLE program, which stands for Pre-college Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence, sponsored 11 of the students. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction also provides scholarships for students to attend the program.
ESP participants come mostly, but not exclusively, from Wisconsin. The students are chosen to attend ESP based on academic merit, potential for growth, and interest in engineering. The program requires an essay, recommendations from teachers, and a 3.0 grade point average, though the 2009 students’ grade point averages were much higher. Beyond grades, students must show they challenge themselves via advanced coursework and are leaders in their schools and communities. The majority of the participants will be first-generation college students.
At the end of ESP, students complete anonymous surveys, and the 2009 participants offered enthusiastic comments. “I loved ESP and I am so glad I was a part of it,” writes one participant. “I learned many things about UW-Madison, and I hope to get accepted. ESP really encouraged me to pursue engineering.”