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AWARE Camp Introduces 16 Young Females to Careers in Electronics Engineering Field

By Allison Deville
PCC Communications Intern

WINTERVILLE—For a group of young girls taking part in AWARE Camp at Pitt Community College this month, the lazy days of summer took a back seat to electronics and robotics.

Held June 20-24, the Advancing Women in Automation Robotics Engineering (AWARE) Camp, introduced 16 rising seventh and eighth-grade girls to the male-dominated field of electronics engineering. The event was funded through a $140,000-grant from the National  Science Foundation.

Though most of the campers participating in the event were from Pitt County, several came from other parts of the state, including Wake, Johnston and Halifax counties.

Carmel Sutton, 12, was interested in the camp because of a family connection. “My dad is in robotics at Bosch [in Greenville] and so I wanted to learn more about it,” she said.

According to Amy Stephenson, PCC’s Electronics Engineering Technology curriculum coordinator, campers participated in a variety of hands-on activities, including circuit-building and controlling and programming robots. They also heard from female role models from the electronics engineering field and toured local industries that utilize robotic technology.

On Thursday, the girls visited Pitt County Memorial Hospital and East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine to learn more about engineering in a health care environment.

At PCMH, the girls visited the biomedical engineering department, where employees Rani George and Jan Measley spoke with them about what it is like to work in a department in which males outnumber females by a 5:1 ratio.

Measley, a Stanly Community College graduate who has worked 28 years at PCMH, began her presentation by commending the campers for their interest in engineering. She then showed them some of the ‘basics’ of electronics engineering—fuses, resistors, semiconductors and circuit boards.

George, meanwhile, demonstrated some of her department’s more hi-tech equipment.

Perhaps the campers’ favorite piece of equipment was something they’d never heard of – a VeinViewer, which uses infrared technology to reveal a patient's veins.

After hearing one camper state that she had never seen a VeinViewer on the TV medical shows, Measley quipped, “You saw it here first; Don’t pay attention to ‘House.’” 

Measley presented each girl with a screwdriver adorned with a corsage and some final words of advice. “Never lose sight that you’re a lady,” she said. “If you need help, ask for it. But don’t sit back and wait for a man to wait on you.”

The girls then visited the East Carolina Heart Institute to learn more about a robot that surgeons use while performing heart surgery. Each girl then took a turn ‘performing surgery’ with the robot.

Maggie Okhihan, 13, came all the way from Durham to attend the camp. “I wanted to come because it seemed very interesting," she said, adding that her previous experience with electricity consisted of a science fair project in which she made a potato clock.

Okhihan’s mother is a nurse while her sister is an EMT. But when asked what career she wanted to pursue, she said she wanted to follow in AWARE Camp counselor Iesha Staton’s footsteps. Staton is an electronics engineering technology major at PCC.

“My family always told me I could do anything a boy could,” said Erica Smith, an AWARE Camp counselor and PCC architectural technology student. “I always say I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.”

AWARE Camp concluded with a show-and-tell presentation for the campers’ parents on Friday.

Having successfully completed the first AWARE Camp at PCC, Stephenson says she is planning to organize a pair of AWARE Camps in 2012.