About 100 high school students will get a no-cost engineering experience at the University of Houston this summer thanks to a grant from the Texas Workforce Commission.
In a move to encourage young people to enter careers in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), the commission awarded the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering a grant of $100,000. Those funds will cover essentially all costs associated with the college’s G.R.A.D.E. Camp and STEP Forward Camp, including supplies, staff and student worker time, and room and board. Camp enrollment fees, which only cover a fraction of actual costs, are typically $300 per student. Thanks to the grant, this year’s camps will be completely free.
G.R.A.D.E (Girls Reaching And Demonstrating Excellence) is a weeklong summer day camp for high school girls that centers on a robotics project. STEP Forward is one-week residential camp for rising high school seniors. Activities include field trips to area engineering companies, panel discussions on engineering careers, and various group projects.
According to Kathy Zerda, who oversees the STEP Forward Camp as director of the college’s Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies, both experiences are designed to help young people decide if they want to study engineering in college.
“Campers get an extremely in-depth and intense experience,” she said. “What I tell parents at the beginning of the STEP Forward orientation is that by the end of the week their child will know if engineering is for them or not. They’ll either love it or hate it. That helps them out in college because they’ll know whether or not to try engineering. That’s really the goal. I want students to apply for college knowing what they’re shooting for and knowing the best place for them to go.”
Many, in fact do go on to study engineering, Zerda said. In fact, about 12 to 15 G.R.A.D.E. or STEP Forward Alumni enroll in the Cullen College each year, making the camps valuable recruiting tools. Each of these students, she added, receives a one-year scholarship ranging from $1,000 to $6,000 thanks to a grant from BP.