Girls engineer their futures at Union camp

Publication Date

When it opened in 1825, the Erie Canal, with its intricate system of 83 locks stretched across 363 miles, was lauded for its engineering advances.

So it was a treat for a group of 20 aspiring engineers attending Union’s annual EDGE camp to visit Lock 2 in Waterford for a first-hand look at how the canal system operates.

Since 2002, the College has hosted a two-week summer program, “Educating Girls for Engineering.” With a dearth of women enrolled in undergraduate engineering programs, the camp encourages high school juniors and seniors from across the country to consider careers in engineering.

During the camp, which ends Friday, July 22, the girls learn about basic engineering principles, participate in communication and public speaking workshops, and take field trips like the one to Lock 2 on a recent weekday afternoon. They also adapt toys and tools for local disabled children.

“The idea is to introduce the girls to different types of engineering,” said Jenny Moon Lippmann ’03, the program’s coordinator. Counselors include Jessica John ’13, Gina Riggins ’13, Marjorie Chee ’14 and Katelyn Lancto ’13.

The College has a rich history with the Erie Canal. A student designed some of the canal’s original bridges and a team of students and professors have worked to restore historic locks.

Steven Sweeney, a civil engineer for the state Canal Corp., gave the girls a brief overview of the canal system and the way the locks are electrically lowered and raised to allow boats to pass. The group also met Dianne Denniston, an engineer with the state’s canal design bureau.

Michele Famoso, an EDGE instructor, thought a trip to Lock 2 was ideal for the girls.

“So much engineering goes into the canal system,” Famoso said. “This is also a good way for the girls to learn a little about local history.”

Riggins, an electrical engineering major from Brooklyn, believes EDGE will inspire many of the girls to pursue engineering careers.

“I enjoy trying to encourage other women to become interested in engineering,” Riggins said. “Giving them an opportunity to see how things work, such as this field trip, is just one way to do that.”

In 1845, Union became the first liberal arts college to offer engineering. For the last four years, the College has hosted academic leaders from more than a dozen top colleges and universities for a national symposium, “Engineering and Liberal Education.”