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Engineering freshman Kate Miller won an award from the National Center for Women and information Technology, which supports females in engineering.

Credit: Amanda Suarez

Engineering freshman Kate Miller is trying to help engineering become more of a female-friendly field.

On April 3, Miller was awarded the AspireIT award by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, an organization committed to getting more women interested in computer science and information technology. The award specifically honors female students who create and run computing-related outreach programs for middle school girls.

“I’ve always been passionate about engineering, and I wanted to share that with other girls,” Miller said.

Miller won the award for the creation of a new program that she will teach this summer at the camp Penn GEMS: Girls in Engineering, Math and Science, a week-long camp for sixth through eighth grade girls that takes place on campus.

She will be using the $5,000 grant she received as part of the award to purchase Microsoft tablets for the campers so she can teach them how to use Kodu, a visual programming language used to create computer games.

“I’ll try to provide a tutorial experience [for Kodu] and then let [the girls] pursue different projects,” she said.

Miller explained that Kodu will teach the girls how to think logically and like programmers in an easy, non-intimidating way.

“[Kate’s program] adds another level of computing to the camp so we’re really excited about that,” Michele Grab, director of the Advancing Women in Engineering Program at Penn, who helped Miller with her project for Penn GEMS, said.

When Miller was in high school, she won her first AspireIT award for her program FIONA — Future Innovators of New Albany — which worked to mentor middle school girls in New Albany, Ohio who were interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

“In middle school, girls don’t consider [engineering], it’s not on their radar,” Miller said. “That’s why I founded FIONA. I think it’s important that girls consider [the engineering field] even if they don’t ultimately pursue it.”

Part of Miller’s reasoning for creating FIONA and the new Kodu track for Penn GEMS is her concern about how underrepresented women are in engineering, with woman making up just 20 percent of the field.

“There has been a lot of looking at why engineering is only 20 percent women nationally and the only thing we can think of is that there’s not enough exposure early on,” Miller said. “So many girls just never even indicated that they’ve thought about engineering. If it’s introduced earlier, maybe it’ll have a better chance.”

Miller said that women make up 30 percent of engineers at Penn, which is “a testament to how Penn encourages women to become engineers.”

However, Miller is dedicated to exposing engineering to girls at a young age.

“[I want girls] to have a clearer idea of all their choices,” she said. “So many people consider engineering impossible, but once [girls] realize they can tackle that, they’ll realize they can do anything they choose.”

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