• Laura Waller, an MIT doctoral candidate in electrical engineering, discusses how to make a metal detector with one of the high school girls participating in this summer's Women's Technology Program.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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MIT women give girls tech edge


Sophomore Andrea Greb knows what an impact the month-long Women's Technology Program, an MIT summer program, can have on a high school girl.

Two years ago, Greb, a Michigan native, made the decision to come to MIT based on her four weeks in the program.

This summer she has returned as a residential assistant in the program, which runs from June 25 to July 23. "I really enjoyed my time, and I wanted to be able to provide that same experience to a new group of girls," Greb said.

The Women's Technology Program brings 40 high school girls to MIT, where they live in dorms and attend intense courses in math, computer science and electrical engineering.

Started in the summer of 2002 by a group of electrical engineering and computer science graduate students who were concerned by the declining numbers of women in their field, the program has grown each year. This year, more than 400 girls applied for just 40 spots.

The accepted girls are "among the top math and science students in the country," said the program's director, Cynthia Skier (S.B. '74, S.M. '81).

However, many have not been exposed to engineering as a career option. "Some have the sense that it is too late, that they should have been programming since they were 10 if they want to go into it," Skier said.

The students build small DC motors, design LED necklaces and participate in team projects to build up their confidence. Female Ph.D. candidates teach the core classes and act as role models.

"I empathize with the students since I was the same way when I started here," said Laura Waller, a Ph.D. candidate in 3-D optics in electrical engineering who is one of three instructors. "They are really excited and learn a lot in a short time."

For the students, meeting 40 like-minded girls while getting to know MIT is very exciting.

"It is great," said Kathleen Clark-Adams, a high school senior from California who plans to apply to MIT. "The best part has been meeting everybody. People come here from so many different backgrounds. I love this school."

Lily Liu of Bridgewater also plans to apply to MIT. "This is letting me see what different kinds of engineering are about," she said.

Liu and Clark-Adams are not alone. Eight of the 27 students who went through the 2002 pilot program attended MIT. In 2003, 18 of the 40 students attended, and 21 students from the 2004 class will attend MIT as freshmen in the fall of 2005. "It's early, but it does seem that this experience has an impact," said Skier.

It certainly had an impact on Greb. After a disappointing initial visit, she had taken MIT off her list. "It was just a bad day I think," she said. Then a flier for the Women's Technology Program landed in her mail, and she decided to apply anyway.

After four weeks in the program, Greb knew MIT was for her. "The people I met and all the opportunities available at MIT made the decision for me," she said. "I could not imagine myself anywhere else but MIT."

Greb sees that same spark in this year's crop of students. "As far as I can tell, they are having the time of their lives," she said.


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