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FALL 2009
VOL. 36, NO. 1

Mark your calendars for Friday, Oct. 9, 2010, when the Badgers play Minnesota.




Engineering Summer Program:
Engaging women and students of color
in engineering

Engineering Summer Program participants

The college Engineering Summer Program (ESP) inspired another 26 future engineers in summer 2009, thanks to a range of corporate support. ESP, a campus summer standard since 1974, gives junior- and senior-level high school students a six-week immersion experience in both the scientific rigor and the hands-on nature of an engineering degree. The experience culminates in students putting their math, physics and chemistry instruction to work on an engineering design challenge — this year, focusing on world health and global engineering. “One of the best things about the program is when students start to realize how important the physical sciences are to the actual work of being an engineer,” says Molly Davis, assistant director of the college Diversity Affairs Office. “Once they put that together, they really thrive.”

The cost of roughly $100,000 to run the program is underwritten by a variety of sources. This year, Halliburton Corp., based in Houston, provided $25,000 to support ESP. Abbott Laboratories of Chicago provided another $15,000 and Rockwell Automation of Milwaukee is sponsoring two Milwaukee-area students for a total of $10,000. Recruitment records show ESP is working. Every year, Davis says the university enrolls anywhere from 10 to 15 students who are ESP alumni, and many of those move on to enroll as engineers. “We take a full six weeks because we are building an actual rela-tionship with these students, where they are bonded to us, to their fellow students and to the university,” she says.

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.”

Engineering Summer Program participant

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.

Engineering Summer Program participants

A team of Engineering Summer Program participants displays its prototype, designed to help people who have lost the use of their hands. (large image)

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.”

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