Women in Engineering Offers Exciting Opportunities

Olivia Smith at WIE
Olivia Smith at WIE
Olivia Smith, of Mancelona, Michigan, participates in a Destination Imagination activity, June 23, during Women In Engineering at Michigan Tech.

For decades Michigan Technological University's Women in Engineering has given outstanding high school students a glimpse of college life and exposure to a variety careers in engineering. Because of a unique program, two girls from Lower Michigan have been given an incredible opportunity.

“I’ve never been in a place with so many girls who have interests similar to mine,” says Rebecca Stover, soon to be a junior at Muskegon High School in Muskegon, Michigan. “I love it here, and I don’t want it to end.”

Stover is among 140 young women in grades 9-11, from 10 states, who attended Women in Engineering at Michigan Technological University. The highly competitive scholarship program provides a chance for young women to investigate careers in engineering and science.

 If Stover, a self-described “nerd,” realizes her career goals, she won’t become an engineer or scientist, but sees those areas as important to her future profession.

 “My goal is to study forensic law at Yale. But I want a foundation of math and physics before I go to law school.”

WIE, which kicked off Michigan Tech’s world-renowned Summer Youth Programs, recruits and attracts outstanding young women who excel both in and out of the classroom. The program also attracts, as Stover found out, student leaders.

 “We do a lot of group activities. I have always been a leader, but here all the girls are leaders. It took a bit of adjustment to work with so many who are just like me. But everyone enjoys working with others so we’re just trying to figure it out.”

Olivia Smith, of Mancelona, Michigan, also had some adjusting to do when it came to working in a group.

“In school and other activities, I tend do everything myself,” she explains. “Here, I found that I can trust everyone.”

The two girls come from vastly different backgrounds—Stover has more than 250 students in her class whereas there are less than 45 students total in Alba High School, where Smith will be a sophomore this fall.

But they do share something in common, in addition to their love of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Both have come to Michigan Tech and the WIE program by virtue of their academic merit—and by chance.

Rebecca Stover of Muskegon, Michigan, participates in a Destination Imagination activity, June 23, during Women In Engineering at Michigan Tech.
Rebecca Stover of Muskegon, Michigan, participates in a Destination Imagination activity, June 23, during Women In Engineering at Michigan Tech.

Earlier this year at industry outreach events in Grand Rapids and Traverse City, Amanda McConnon, assistant director of the Center for Educational Outreach, the department which conducts the SYP at Tech, came up with an idea.

In a variation of the door prize concept, businesses attending the two events were entered into a drawing. But instead of a gift basket, the winners had the chance to change the life of a young woman from their community by giving her a scholarship to Women in Engineering at Michigan Tech.

Wolverine Power Cooperative of Cadillac, Michigan and TGW Systems of Spring Lake, Michigan were the winners of these unique prizes.

"I can see myself coming here."Rebecca Stover

 McConnon says she’s pleased with how things have worked out so far. She says the idea is to get companies who recruit Michigan Tech graduates to become involved in recruiting students to come to Tech for college.

 “They know they want Michigan Tech grads,” McConnon says. “This program shows them we want high school students from their back yards to experience Michigan Tech.”

Already the program is paying dividends. Heather McClure, human resources administrator for Wolverine Power Cooperative, says she’s “beyond thankful” for the scholarship partnership with Michigan Tech.

“As a cooperative, we lead our business practices by following seven core principles and one of those is being involved in the community and giving back,” she explains.

 Within a week, McClure spread information about the scholarship to schools in Northern Lower Michigan, reviewed the applications and selected a candidate, with the help of the local ISD and Chamber of Commerce. The invitation was also extended to Wolverine Power employees.

 “We have 135 employees on staff located all throughout the state of Michigan,” McClure says.

 One of those employees is Olivia Smith’s father, but McClure is quick to point out it wasn’t nepotism that brought Olivia to Michigan Tech.

 “I reviewed all the applications equally, and Olivia was selected for having the highest rank in her class and the highest GPA of the candidates who applied.”

 Even before Olivia’s week up north was over, McClure says her company is climbing on board with WIE.

 “This opportunity was given to Wolverine from Michigan Tech, but this is a practice and opportunity that we will continue to offer each year to local students.”

Calling Michigan Tech her “go to” college for recruiting engineers, McClure has an affinity for the University. “I have had the most luck recruiting Huskies,” she says. “Promoting Michigan Tech while giving this outstanding opportunity to a deserving individual is a win-win for all.”

The scholarships weren’t the only new twists this year. It so happens that this year’s WIE coincided with the National Week of Making. Building off President Obama’s 2014 Nation of Makers Initiative, the week was dedicated to events for citizen makers to take action and highlight new innovations.

The Center for Pre-college outreach worked with the National Science Foundation-funded University Innovation Fellows to provide some “maker opportunities” during Women in Engineering. An interactive map hung in a hallway, and students were given four pipe cleaners to make something that represents their home town to hang on the map.

There was also a “makers night” when students had the opportunity to make either a paper weight with clip displays or a wire art project. Students also had the opportunity to explore making during one of the Destination Imagination challenges on Thursday, June 23.

The variety of activities certainly had an impact on Stover and Smith. “The activities were challenging, but it was so exciting to be around people who understand me,” Stover says.

Smith concurs. “I expected to experience new things and develop new relationships. It has exceeding those expectations.”

One of the goals of Summer Youth Programs is to give high school-aged students a glimpse of college life—attending classes, working in labs, living in residence halls and eating in the cafeteria.

“I am very, very excited to be a part of all this,” Smith says.

Both girls say Michigan Tech could very well factor in their futures.

“I’m definitely looking into biomedical engineering, and definitely interested in Michigan Tech,” Smith says.

Stover feels an undergraduate education in Houghton would fit in well before heading to New Haven. “I can see myself coming here,” she says.

Upcoming competitive scholarship programs in the SYP include National Summer Transportation Institute, Rail and Intermodal Transportation, Women in Computer Science, Junior Women in Engineering and Women in Automotive Engineering.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, the University offers more than 125 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.