High school girls explore ECE with GLEE

ECE News


Story Highlights

  • At the fourth annual GLEE camp, part of G.A.M.E.S., fourteen high school girls spent a week on campus exploring ECE.
  • This year, the campers created solar cells in the Everitt cleanroom lab, in addition to building circuits and calculators.
  • The camp continues to inspire and educate girls interested in STEM careers by providing role models and hands-on experience in ECE's state-of-the-art facilities.

Striving to draw more women to electrical engineering, ECE’s GLEE camp (Girls Learning Electrical Engineering) had a strong fourth year. Fourteen high school girls explored the discipline at Illinois in late July, spending one week on campus. They participated in experiments in classrooms and the Everitt cleanroom lab, studied in their dorm rooms, learned from ECE professors, and enjoyed social events, experiencing firsthand many aspects of the life of an ECE student at Illinois.

The challenging and immersive nature of the program is what makes the experience invaluable, as director of the camp Associate Professor Lynford L. Goddard explained. “They really want to do advanced work, so it’s better to give them the challenge and let them go for it. They like the details, but especially in hands-on form.” These heavily detailed hands-on experiences help give the campers an idea of what an engineering college experience would be like in a way they can’t get from high school classes, including the academic challenge: “They get to read 200 pages worth of material in the course of the week. So it’s really trying to simulate what a full load of classes at college is like.”

The camp has always had two major projects, where the girls build an FM transmitter circuit and an LED calculator. New to this year’s curriculum was the addition of an experiment in the Everitt cleanroom lab, something most ECE students don’t do until their junior or senior years. This was one of the camp’s efforts to make hands-on learning even more central to the experience. In the cleanroom, the campers created two different types of solar cells under the direction of their mentors. By spin-coating a p-type organic semiconductor onto an n-type silicon wafer, they formed a p-n junction solar cell. They also formed a metal-insulator-semiconductor solar cell by using Tollens’ reagent to precipitate a very thin silver layer onto the silicon wafer. “When light shines through the solar cell they can measure the voltage across the junction and the current that’s generated.” Experiments like this give the campers practical, hands-on experience.

Goddard was joined by graduate students Yemaya Bordain and Steve McKeown and undergraduates Melissa Crawford and Marjorie Dallmann, who served as teachers and mentors for the campers. Bordain and McKeown coordinated much of the camp, taught several sessions, and led the projects; Crawford and Dallmann helped the campers in the projects. These mentors being comprised mostly of women and sporting the same “Girls Rock!” shirts that the campers wore are a few of the efforts the camp makes to inspire confidence in the girls’ abilities to succeed in STEM education and careers.

So what did the girls take away from the camp? Goddard said, “I think the main thing that they learn is that ECE is a very diverse field. A lot of campers come in thinking that ECE is circuits and electronics, and that’s all ECE covers. But we really try to show them all of the sub-areas of ECE.” Throughout the camp, many of the campers realize that an education in ECE can open a path to many different career opportunities, and that’s something GLEE wants to encourage.

After first writing a proposal to Motorola Foundation to develop a camp in 2009, Goddard’s efforts culminated in the first GLEE camp in 2010, a part of G.A.M.E.S. Camp (Girls Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science).  When asked about the future of GLEE, Goddard expressed interest in fine-tuning the activities from this year, giving some more time to the solar cell project, and developing additional engaging hands-on projects in other areas of ECE to enhance the experience of the camp.

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Julia Sullivan

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Todd Sweet

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