A Manufacturing Engineering program at UW-Stout began officially in the fall of 1994. The enrollment of female students has averaged between 10 and 15% and those of minority students have been even lower since the program's inception. It is felt that the most effective means of changing this situation is a long-term one, by exposing youngsters in minority and female groups to the opportunities for careers in engineering before they make irreversible curriculum decisions in middle school and high school.
Several statistics are noted when documenting the need for interventions that encourage young women to enter technology fields. The low rate of participation of women and minorities in engineering careers is well documented. Roughly 19% of freshman engineering students are women; women make up only 8% of the engineering workforce, and the total number of female freshmen is declining. In addition, there presently are 268,000 unfilled technology positions in the United States. By the year 2010, these unfilled positions are projected to grow to 1.6 million. Women do not participate in the highly technical fields as evidenced by the 19% engineering student level, and there are ample technology related opportunities.
Society is denied the services of talented young women in technology fields, who, were it not for gender or cultural biasing, have the potential to become excellent engineers. Without the intervention of the nature represented by the STEPS for Girls concept, most young students make critical high school curriculum choices that limit their ability to enter, participated in, and succeed in an engineering program in college. Therefore it is essential to reach these potential students early with solid information about the excitement of an engineering career and what it takes to follow one. The STEPS for Girls program was designed to do that.
As a result, the concept of a summer engineering and technology camp for girls entering the seventh grade was developed. The first camp was conducted in the summer of 1997. The purpose of the camp is to expose women to the opportunities for technical careers early enough to influence their choices of math, science, and technical courses in middle and high school. The ultimate goal is to increase the participation of women in these career fields. The College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Stout publishes annual STEPS for Girls reports and is currently conducting research supported by grants to assess the effectiveness of the program over its many years of operation.