Hands-on activities and personal mentoring give middle school girls a fun and meaningful introduction to opportunities in engineering and other STEM disciplines

While we adults are (usually) always trying to make things easier, kids have a blast making the simplest task as complicated as possible.

Designing and building a convoluted Rube Goldberg machine to pluck a tissue from a box or get toothpaste on a toothbrush was one of the many creative challenges middle school girls tackled during Lehigh’s annual summer CHOICES camp. The two week-long day camps were held back-to-back in late June on Lehigh’s campus. 

The goal of CHOICES (which stands for Charting Horizons and Opportunities in Careers in Engineering and Science) is to give young girls the opportunity to participate in fun engineering experiments led by women engineers, including college students and faculty. 

“It’s a whole week of hands-on activities, going on field trips, meeting women in engineering, and just having a lot of fun bonding with each other while learning about engineering and STEM,” says CHOICES program manager Chayah Wilbers.  

The camp is sponsored by Lehigh's P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science with support from partner organization Bosch Rexroth.

In addition to engineering elaborate ways to make marbles, dominoes, toy cars, and disposable gloves do the most mundane of tasks, the girls learned about structural engineering by building with plastic rod and connector toys and testing their creations on a shake table meant to simulate earthquake forces. They fabricated medallions out of metal and plastic that featured the Lehigh logo. Teams designed and constructed towers in a friendly competition to see how many buckets of water the towers could sustain before collapsing. They directed simple robots to knock down bowling pins, learned how engineers can help better direct ambulances to hospitals, and went on a field trip to Bosch Rexroth to observe the engineers and engineering processes powering an international company.

The girls interacted with engineering faculty members and spent each day with student mentors from a range of engineering majors. Those women are key to the camp’s success, and in some cases, are former CHOICES participants themselves.

“I had no interest in being an engineer when I showed up to this camp,” says Natalie Maroun ’21 ’22G, a graduate student studying mechanical engineering with a focus in manufacturing science. Maroun was a CHOICES participant in middle school, a junior mentor for four years in high school, and a mentor for two years as an undergraduate. “I didn’t really know what engineering was. My dad was an engineer, and he builds engines and does stuff with boats sometimes, and I was like, that doesn’t sound like what I want to do, so I don’t want to be an engineer.”

She says CHOICES—which also hosts a one-day spring program featuring some of the same activities—did a great job of showing how varied the field of engineering can be, and “all the cool stuff you can do” as an engineer.

“It really showed me that engineering wasn’t just building cars,” she says. “It was a lot more about creativity and exploring and creating new things while applying math and science to it. And being surrounded by a lot of other women in engineering showed me that it was something that I could do and that it wasn’t just a field for men.”

Students attend CHOICES camp

CHOICES summer camp provides middle-school girls opportunities to participate in fun engineering and science experiments led by Lehigh women engineers.

Choices logo
It really showed me that engineering wasn’t just building cars. It was a lot more about creativity and exploring and creating new things while applying math and science to it.
CHOICES mentor Natalie Maroun ’21 ’22G