FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Since 2005, Northern Arizona University's Multicultural Engineering Program has given young women a chance to ''step up'' to the challenge of a career in engineering.
And this year, for the first time, a related summer camp called the Engineering Camp for Young Men will make the same opportunity available to young men, said MEP staff member Danielle Varnes.
Established in 1994, the MEP offers a variety of programs designed to increase and enhance the academic performance of NAU students. The MEP currently serves as a support and resource center for black, Hispanic, Native, female, disabled and first-generation engineering and construction management students.
''The MEP is one means of addressing the critical issue of the under-representation in undergraduate engineering programs and the industry work force,'' Varnes said.
However, the camps are open to all eligible students across the country, she added. STEP UP is an acronym for Summer Technology & Engineering Program and University Preview.
In both camps, the students live on campus for the week.
The STEP UP engineering camp will be held July 6 - 12, Varnes said. The men's camp will run July 21 - 25, she added. The deadline to apply for both camps is May 30.
''We've extended the deadline this year,'' she said.
STEP UP camp began, in part, thanks to a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The idea was to address a critical need for more women and minorities in the field of engineering.
''There is definitely a lack of women and girls in engineering,'' Varnes said. ''There's a push for minorities, too.''
In a way, the country is waking from its own history of devaluing women in certain fields - including math and science, she said.
''They were steered toward teaching or nursing.''
Engineering is a discipline that covers many areas, such as aeronautics, chemical or mechanical engineering and water quality issues, she said.
Many of the young women who attend STEP UP are very excited, Varnes said. For many, it's the opening of a new door - the beginning of realizing that higher education was possible, she explained.
That's important to Varnes, who was the first in her family to go to college.
It's important for young students to have role models, to be around people who have accomplished what the student still dreams of, Varnes said.
At both summer camps, the students attend lectures and interact with professionals in the field. Most of the activities are hands-on.
''It's really one of the most affordable camps of its kind,'' she said. If a student requests it, scholarships will be considered to help defray expenses, she said.
The first year of STEP UP, 15 young women attended. Since then, the camp has accepted 25 a year, Varnes said. She hopes to have about 25 for the men's camp, but registration has been slow.
Varnes attributes that to it being the first year for the men's camp, so it is not as well established as its sister program.
''The students work on great projects,'' Varnes said. In the past, they worked on building mousetrap cars, solar stoves and robots.
To qualify for either camp, a high school student must be entering the 10th, 11th or 12th grade in the fall of 2008. Students should have an interest in engineering, math, science and/or technology, a curiosity about how things work, or want to help solve big problems in the world. Students of all ethnicities are accepted.
Students must complete the following:
"Fill out the 2008 application, which can be downloaded at the MEP Web site, and mail it to: MEP, P.O. Box 15600, Flagstaff, AZ 86001.
"Submit a typed, 100-word essay on ''Why I am interested in engineering.''
"Provide one letter of recommendation from a science or math teacher.
"Pay the application fee, by either check or money order, to ''NAU/Engineering.''
The cost is $200 for women; $150 for men. (If you are not selected this year, a full refund will be issued; or, if selected but you cancel after June 1, the fee will be refunded only if the open vacancy is filled.) You may request an application scholarship by writing a statement telling us why you are requesting aid.
"Provide a high school transcript.
For more information, call (928) 523-2087 or visit www.nau.edu/mep.
John Christian Hopkins can be reached at Hopkins1960@hotmail.com.