Office of External Communications

Houston, TX 77204-5017 Fax: 713.743.8199

March 22, 2007

Contact: Lisa Merkl
713.743.8192 (office)
713.605.1757 (pager)

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Photos of camp participants are available on the Web at High-resolution photos are available by contacting Lisa Merkl.

Designing Robots Helps Students Kick-Start Careers in Engineering

HOUSTON, March 22, 2007 – The nation’s shortage of engineers is closely connected to another problem: a shortage of young people, particularly women and people of color, pursuing engineering degrees. The University of Houston is working toward a potential remedy.

Middle and high school students are being afforded an opportunity to discover what engineering is all about through hands-on experience at two summer camps offered through the Cullen College of Engineering at UH:

  • MESET (Mentoring and Enrichment Seminar in Engineering Training), a two-week residential camp, will be offered June 3-15 to high school students who have completed their junior year.
  • GRADE (Girls Reaching and Demonstrating Excellence) Camp, a weeklong day camp for girls entering grades eight through 12, will be offered in four sessions: June 18-22, June 25-29, July 9-13 and
    July 16-20.

Both camps cost $200, and camp scholarship applications are available for students with financial needs. MESET applications are due April 15, while GRADE Camp participants will be selected on a first-come, first-served basis.

MESET began in 1980 and has served nearly a thousand rising 12th graders since its inception. Participants generally hail from groups that are traditionally under-represented in engineering, including African Americans, Hispanics and women, said Kathy Zerda, director of the Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies (PROMES), which runs the camp. PROMES is a program that provides engineering students with recruitment, academic advising, workshops, scholarships and job opportunities.

“Our goal is to excite students about the opportunities for them in engineering as a career while providing a residential pre-college experience,” she said. “Many MESET alumni have gone on to attend UH as science and engineering majors over the years.”

MESET participants are introduced to the various disciplines of engineering before tackling robotics and engineering design contests. They also make site visits to the Johnson Space Center and to engineering companies, as well as attend panel discussions with working engineers.

UH engineering students serve as MESET mentors and counselors. Jessica Abbas, a UH sophomore pursuing a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, was a MESET mentor at last year’s camp and a participant, herself, in 2004.

“MESET is a fun way to get a jump start on thinking about college and your career,” she said.

GRADE Camp, now in its fifth year, includes interactive labs that incorporate engineering principles to help participants design, build and program a Lego robot to navigate through a maze. The students then present their projects to an audience of parents and teachers at a special luncheon at the end of the week.

GRADE Campers also interact with local female engineers, faculty and college students to learn about engineering and issues specific to women pursuing engineering.

Jenny Ruchhoeft, GRADE Camp’s founding director, said she enjoys watching camp participants empower themselves as they progress through the curriculum.

“Some girls come to camp somewhat skeptical and then are so proud of their accomplishments by the end of the week,” she said. “They gain confidence in their skills and potential as a future contributing engineer or scientist. They meet successful, competent and encouraging female role models.”

GRADE Campers’ role models include UH faculty members, who lead the camps, and undergraduate members of the Society of Women Engineers who serve as mentors to the camp participants, guiding them step by step through the curriculum.

“I was excited to help young women learn about the field of engineering,” said Nicole Stewart, a 2006 GRADE Camp mentor and UH senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. “The girls gained enough knowledge and hands-on experience that engineering was not alien to them anymore. They left with friends and resources to help them succeed with a future in engineering.”

Among those resources is an automatic, one-time $1,000 scholarship reserved for girls who complete the program and subsequently enroll in an engineering, technology, natural sciences or mathematics major their first year at UH.

“The kind of head start GRADE Camp offers young women toward pursuing careers in engineering is invaluable,” said Allison Hawthorne, the camp’s incoming director. “Engineering is so critical in this day and age, and to be part of spreading that information and introducing girls to this career is extremely important,” she said.

GRADE Camp participants must be females who have completed appropriate math and science courses for their grade level. Candidates for MESET are selected based on their PSAT, SAT or ACT scores, a personal essay, teacher or counselor recommendations, and a phone interview.

For more information about MESET, e-mail or visit ?e=camps. To learn more about GRADE Camp, call 713-743-4172, e-mail or visit

About the University of Houston
The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the Cullen College of Engineering
UH Cullen College of Engineering has produced five U.S. astronauts, ten members of the National Academy of Engineering, and degree programs that have ranked in the top ten nationally. With more than 2,600 students, the college offers accredited undergraduate and graduate degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, industrial, and mechanical engineering. It also offers specialized programs in aerospace, materials, petroleum engineering and telecommunications.

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