Future STEM Workforce

Duke Energy, ECU provide special camp to high school girls

McKaylind Kilpatrick scoops up a sample of water during the recent Engineering and Technology Summer Academy at ECU. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)


By Rich Klindworth
ECU News Services

Watch this video, courtesy of Rick Klindworth, to learn more about the Academy

For the second summer in a row, the Engineering and Technology Summer Academy at East Carolina University provided rising ninth-grade girls hands-on opportunities to program small computers, survey land, work with water quality and tour technology companies – giving them a glimpse into what a career in a technical field could hold.

“You never really think about water quality until you actually get into science and start learning about, ‘Hey, this is turbidity, pH, stuff like that,’” said academy participant Robyn Walker of Kinston. “You never really think about it until you sit down with the science teacher and actually learn about that kind of stuff.”

For the adults involved, this camp is something many of them wished they had heading into the ninth grade. 

“I personally was an engineer, mechanical engineer, but it was very unusual at that time for females to join engineering ranks,” said Millie Chalk, a government and community relations district manager at Duke Energy. “The neat thing with this, starting in the earlier years, is that students have the opportunity to get their math lined up for future engineering courses. They also have the opportunity to explore a lot of different avenues, things that they might be interested in.”

Duke Energy provided $135,000 over the past two summers to sponsor the academies with the ECU College of Engineering and Technology. This year, like last year, there were two separate week-long camps

Jeffrey Foeller observes Selena Rodriquez, left, and Robyn Walker collect data.

in which the girls lived in ECU residence halls. A total of 64 girls from Beaufort, Greene, Lenoir, Pitt and Wayne counties have participated in the academy over the last two summers. “I did see myself in one of those girls. … but I never had those opportunities as a young lady growing up to be exposed to such things. They really have worked hard and studied very hard to do it, so it’s a great honor to be a part of it,” said Donna Phillips, senior economic development manager at Duke Energy.

Duke Energy hopes this taste of science, technology, engineering and mathematics will provide them with skilled employees in the not-too-distant future.

“Duke has a plan to modernize our grid over the next 10 years. So a few of these students who are here today might end up being one of our employees before it’s all over,” Chalk said.

Thanks to Duke Energy, the summer academy at ECU was free for the girls to attend, and they were able to take their computers home with them. For students like Selena Rodriguez of Goldsboro, it was the first time she participated in a summer camp, which she hopes will help her decide what to do for a career in the future.  

“It’s a good opportunity. … I really like biology and math and stuff,” she said. “I know I want to do something with this kind of stuff, like chemistry, biology and/or math.”

“What they’ve learned in a week, it’s impressive. They’re going to all be successful,” Phillips added.