Many STEPS forward
Program inspired participant to learn about science, technology
July 30, 2014
Meghan Walters learned plenty from the STEPS for Girls
program at University of Wisconsin-Stout, not the least of which is that the
program is appropriately named.
Walters is a shining example of how STEPS, a summer
experience for middle school girls, can be a stepping-stone to a career in fields
that typically are male-dominated. STEPS stands for Science, Technology and
Engineering Preview Summer program.
A decade ago, Walters was a STEPS participant when she was
about to enter seventh grade.
"It opened my eyes. I realized, 'Oh, a girl can go into
math, science and technology fields,' " she said.
She loved STEPS so much that she kept coming back — for an
advanced camp, as a lab assistant and as a junior counselor, counselor and
During this summer's 18th annual program, Walters was head
counselor for the 160 girls who spent a week on campus in groups of 40. She now
helps guide girls who, like her a decade ago, were a little nervous the day
they arrived and a little unsure if science was for them.
"It's a huge confidence-builder for everyone here," Walters
said. "By the end of the week they're all very comfortable."
Along with developing a love for science, STEPS helped
Walters take another big step in her life. When she graduated from high school,
she applied at only one college: UW-Stout, Wisconsin's Polytechnic University.
In 2013 she earned a technology education degree. She was
the only female in her program's graduating class that spring, she said.
Since then she has been substitute teaching tech ed in the
Wausau school district, her hometown, and working on a master's degree — along
with working at STEPS.
"If you get to know me, I love talking about STEPS. I'm
already planning for next year. How can I make this better?" she said.
The STEPS experience focuses on manufacturing engineering
through the fabrication of a unique product, an obstacle-avoiding robot, the Bug
Bot, in a realistic production setting. Girls have hands-on lab sessions for
packaging, plastics, electronics, automation and foundry and produce essential
components for the robot.
Physics, chemistry, biology and math activities provide
background for the project. Communication skills are sharpened in cross-media
graphics and multimedia design.
"We get as much hands-on as we can get. Their hands are
always busy," Walters said.
Girls see all aspects of a manufacturing process. They go to
the foundry and help make aluminum robot parts, learn about plastic thermoforming
and make the robot shell, build antennas in an automation class and, in a
packaging class, make a case to carry their robot.
"Every class is a favorite for somebody. That's always
amazing to see," Walters said.
On the final day of the week, girls run the completed robots
through obstacle courses in a low-key competition to see whose perform the
Grant and sponsors
fund about 40
percent of the program, with tuition covering 40 percent and UW-Stout 20 percent. For a list of
sponsors and to apply for the 2015 STEPS program, click here.
2,800 girls have participated in STEPS since it began in 1997.
activities are presented by university STEM College faculty or professionals in
the field; most of those presenting are women.Many
UW-Stout students and departments are involved.
Top: Meghan Walters is head counselor for the STEPS for
Girls program at UW-Stout. Now a technology education teacher, she is a former
program participant and UW-Stout graduate.
Middle: A girl in the STEPS program carries a piece of molten
metal, which was used in her Bug Bot robot. The metal was cast at the foundry
in Fryklund Hall under the supervision of Professor Brian Finder.
Bottom: After making parts for their Bug Bots, girls assembled
their robots in Jarvis Hall Tech Wing.