Danielle Carter would like to see stereotypes about engineers and engineering students put to rest.
"There seems to be a stigma around what engineers look like - what color, what gender," said Carter, a junior majoring in electrical engineering at Old Dominion University's Batten College of Engineering and Technology.
Toward that end, she conceptualized and led the college's first Early Engineering Experience (E3) earlier this year.
"I believe it's important to expose all students to the endless possibilities that exist in engineering and to show them that anyone can do it as long as they have the heart," Carter said.
The event was part of a Virginia and North Carolina partnership. The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, an alliance-based program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), was created to assist universities and colleges in diversifying the nation's science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce by increasing the number of STEM baccalaureate and graduate degrees awarded to historically underrepresented populations.
"Though ODU is doing better than most public universities in Virginia in terms of attracting African American and other underrepresented minorities into STEM fields, there is still a lot of room for improvement," said Rafael Landaeta, associate dean of the College and principal investigator of the grant. "The E3 program is just one of several proactive programs under this grant aimed at addressing the disparity."
From lab tours to networking, 10 African American high school students spent three days at ODU. The students from Virginia Beach, Tidewater as well as the Richmond area met engineering students, explored engineering organizations and engaged in cultural and recreational events. Student mentors shared their experiences, answered questions and provided insights into STEM fields.
Since the $200,000 LSAMP grant was funded, nearly a dozen programs have benefitted. According to Landaeta, the College plans to continue the E3 event annually.
"These initiatives demonstrate the strong commitment of Old Dominion University to serve underrepresented minorities in STEM, the positive vision and values of ODU engineering students, and the solid support of the National Science Foundation to the Batten College of Engineering and Technology," he said.
Engineering students involved also included Abbie Dean, Renee Mystique Owens, Montavius Gatlin and Amadu Koroma.