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Quisherra Tyson builds her Raspberry Pi mini computer. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)



Camp exposes girls to engineering, technology careers

July 27, 2016

By Rich Klindworth
ECU News Services

Area ninth-grade young women built tiny computers and got a close-up look at potential career fields as part of the inaugural Engineering and Technology Summer Academy at East Carolina University.

“Since I like doing technology, making and fixing stuff, I think that it’s helped me have a clearer path for my future,” said Talisha Mills, a rising freshman at Ayden-Grifton High School.

Talisha Mills connects cables to her Raspberry Pi as she builds it.

The academy was made possible by a $100,000 grant from Duke Energy through the Duke Energy Foundation. The Duke Energy Foundation awards more than $25 million in charitable grants annually for projects that are vital to community health, such as education and workforce development.

“Without their funding, this academy could not have happened,” said its co-organizer, Margaret Turner, who is the director of marketing and outreach in the College of Engineering and Technology at ECU.

The program gave local young women hands-on experiences to learn about various STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs in construction management, computer programming, quality assurance and design in manufacturing. The academic sessions were led by faculty in the College of Engineering and Technology.

“I actually liked the surveying part a lot,” said Daphne Meyer, a rising freshman at Ayden-Grifton High School. “I never knew how they built the buildings and set everything up so they could know the exact location on the ground it has to be. I never knew how they got it so exact.”

Forty students from Pitt, Greene, Beaufort, Wayne and Lenoir counties participated with 20 attending July 17-22 and the other half July 24-29. The soon-to-be high schoolers sampled college life by staying in a residence hall and eating in a dining hall each week. 

Daphne Meyer (left) looks on as Brenda Beltran does some surveying for a presentation for their parents.

“I thought it was very good for her (Daphne) and I was excited for her to be in a college environment and spend the night in a dorm and have the sorority with the other girls,” said Daphne’s dad, Eric Meyer.

Their week ended with the girls presenting to their parents what they had learned.  

“It seems pretty impressive the things that they did,” said Meyer. “It’s practical knowledge and things she never really realized that went into engineering and building schools, bridges and roads. Just with the surveying, I think, she learned a lot from that.”

Students also participated in a “lean manufacturing” workshop where they built airplanes out of Legos and learned how to improve the process needed to meet production goals. The girls toured DSM Dyneema in Greenville where they talked with female engineers. The participants also learned about the product design process and discussed the importance of quality in the manufacturing process.

“It is important for ECU and for eastern North Carolina to have opportunities like this — to pique young students’ interest in STEM fields and to show them that a college education is indeed possible for them,” Turner said.

The College of Engineering and Technology has approximately 2,500 students studying in undergraduate and graduate programs in computer science, construction management, engineering and technology systems.

“We have a lot of companies right now that have special days, events that are held for women in IT (information technology) in general, so there is a lot of opportunity and a lot of companies are actively recruiting females to come into the program,” said Steve Baker, teaching instructor at ECU who taught campers how to build a Raspberry Pi mini-computer.

“I really wanted to do this because I enjoyed my STEM class during the year at school and I would love to pursue a career in the field,” said Alyssa Dunn, a rising freshman at Ayden-Grifton High School. “My favorite part of the whole week was the Raspberry Pi. It was very fun, having to apply your skills and program it and put it together so it felt like you were the one doing all of the work. It was kind of cool having your own device that you built.”

The students were able to keep their Raspberry Pi computers and are encouraged to continue to work with the devices at home to expand what they learned at the academy.

From left to right: Quisherra Tyson, Fatima Torres, Tiona Bailey, and Bryana Lopez show their parents a finished model of the Raspberry Pi mini computers that they built.

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