DANVILLE — Grace Awodeah used to think that designing and building bridges was a man's job.
That was until this week when the 14-year-old from Danville and nine other teenage girls designed and built a model wooden-truss bridge of their own.
"Women can build bridges, and we can build rockets, too," said Grace, who was engrossed in that task on Thursday at the Amped Up Technology Camp at Danville Area Community College. "I think I like building rockets more."
Now in its third year, the week-long camp is funded by an Illinois State University grant and run in partnership with DACC, the Education for Employment Office 400, the East Central Illinois Community Action Agency and the Boys & Girls Club of Danville.
It's designed to expose teen-age girls to a wide variety of STEM activities that will give them a better idea of the type of careers that are available in the manufacturing and high-tech industries.
"Our goal is to get girls interested in technology and to not be scared of it," said Doug Hunter, an industrial technology instructor at DACC and the camp's director.
"This is giving them a hands-on introduction to technology and hopefully building their interest in it," he continued.
Hunter said there is a great need for people to fill jobs in science, technology, engineering and math related fields. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in those fields conservatively is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022 — an increase of about 1 million jobs over 2012 levels.
"And we need more women in those jobs," said Kathy Franklin, an information systems instructor at DACC and a mentor at the camp.
The gender gap in STEM careers can also be seen in college classrooms across the country, including DACC, the instructors said.
In the past few years, the ratio of men to women students in his classes has easily been 10 to 1, said Hunter, who teaches advanced manufacturing and mechatronics, among others
Franklin said that ratio is 15 to 1 in her computer programming classes.
"I don't think they've really been encouraged or challenged" to go into these careers, she continued.
But both she and Hunter said women have been shown to bring technical and leadership skills to the table, improving quality, production and creating a healthier workplace.
"There are actually a lot of scholarships out there for women in STEM," Franklin added.
The campers started the week designing and building a model bridge. They studied various factors engineers must consider when designing a bridge such as its span, load, compression and tension.
Then with the help of female mentors — including a Community Action Agency educational specialist and two Covington, Ind. school teachers — they sketched a design for their structure on graph paper, built the parts of the superstructure and substructure with pieces of balsa wood and glue and then decorated them.
At least one was painted pink and purple.
On Friday came the fun part, said 13-year-old Janyla Phipps, of Danville. One by one, they will set their models on Hunter's bridge tester to measure their structure's load capacity.
"In the past, we've had bridges that can hold 400 pounds," he said, adding it's up to the campers to figure out what type of truss design is strongest and will best support their structure.
On Wednesday, Franklin introduced the campers to computer programming, which, she explained, is solving problems in a logical manner. Following their self-guided tutorial, the girls dragged and dropped blocks of visual programming language across the screen and connected them to create code sequences. When they clicked "run," they made Elsa or Anna from "Frozen" skate across an ice rink or Steve or Alex go on a Minecraft adventure.
On Thursday, the campers constructed model rockets, using sturdy cardboard tubes. Danville sisters Tamia Davis, 13, and Tionna Davis, 12, designed fins, cut them out in balsawood and then attached them to the body, using a hot glue gun.
"It has to be able to stand by itself," Tamia said.
And "how well they design their fins will determine the overall aerodynamics," Hunter added.
Friday, he took the girls to the Vermilion County Fairgrounds where they will launch their rockets.
Grace and Janyla said they're really glad their moms signed them up for the camp.
"I wasn't sure if I'd like it at first," Grace admitted. "But it's really opened my mind up to new stuff."
"You're challenging yourself," Janyla said.
"It's showed me that girls can do anything boys can do," said Madison Pollitt, of Potomac, who's interested in a career that involves design and technology. "Women are good at coming up with ideas, and they're good at organization. I think some new technology could come out because of women."