By Sarah Freishtat
Anderson Independent Mail, S.C.
Natasha Davis is an engineer for the Georgia Department of Transportation, and doesn’t often see other women on the job.
Davis, who lives in Anderson, comes from a family of carpenters.
“Even in my family, it was like, ‘This is something guys do,'” Davis said.
Now, Davis is a counselor at a new summer camp at Clemson designed to build interest among girls in science, technology, engineering and math.
Girls often don’t consider engineering fields, but they can lead to high-paying jobs, said camp director Serita Acker.
“It is to make girls feel more confident in math,” Acker said. “All our lives, we’ve heard math is hard.”
Acker, who also leads Clemson’s Women in Science and Engineering organization, said math is required for many careers. Women should have a say in developing the products and research they use, she said.
But, she said, engineering, construction and architecture jobs are dominated by men.
Acker said she partners with Girl Scouts and runs middle- and high-school camps to try to encourage girls of every age to consider studying science, technology, engineering and math — STEM fields.
Women made up 20 percent of the 4,244 students studying science and engineering at Clemson in 2011.
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Nationwide, they earned 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields and almost 23 percent of master’s degrees in STEM fields, according to Acker’s research.
Yet, she said, South Carolina’s need for chemical engineers is more than twice the national average.
The state’s need for computer-controlled machine operators, mechanical engineers and other types of engineers is almost twice the national average, according to Acker’s research.
“These majors can lead to good jobs,” Acker said.
The Oconee County school district runs a program similar to Clemson’s camp to introduce girls entering eighth and ninth grade to welding and manufacturing.
Between 10 and 15 girls visit local companies and learn to use welding and laser tools to create projects, said welding teacher Scott Hightower, who leads the camp with another district teacher.
The girls learned to run a 3D printer and use a laser to engrave metal. They soldered phone chargers and welded plant or birdseed hangers, Hightower said.
“We’re trying to get girls to consider, there’s a lot of good jobs available in engineering and math,” Hightower said. “Society has made them cross those jobs off their list — those jobs are man jobs.”
At the Clemson camp, about two dozen girls entering ninth or 10th grade are spending a week taking classes and experimenting with remote-controlled cars. They took classes in materials science and bioengineering, and learned about friction and suspension by dissecting the cars.
Camp counselor Aurie Jones, a Clemson student from Anderson, decided to study civil engineering after attending a similar camp at Clemson for middle-schoolers.
She had planned for a law-related career, she said, but the camp showed her civil engineering is hands-on and exciting.
“I know this is where I’m supposed to be,” she said.
Veronica Beard, a camper from Barnwell, enjoys automotive engineering — when the family minivan broke down on a road trip, she wanted to fix it on the side of the road — but the camp has made her lean toward bioengineering, which would allow her to create implants in limbs and joints, she said.
She was signed up for teaching classes during the next school year, but has realized she should take engineering classes instead, she said.
“It’s kind of neat how they (engineers) can do anything now,” Beard said.