Gloria Omwanda, 17, is a high school senior from Newark, N.J., who participated in the Engineering Summer Program. It’s a free, six-week residential program on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus for academically talented women and groups historically underrepresented in engineering. Students take math, physics, chemistry, engineering, and technical communications, along with enjoying industry site visits, field trips, guest lectures, workshops, and faculty mentoring. The program challenges them to think creatively, work in teams, and solve problems inside and outside the classroom.
Omwanda was apprehensive about the Engineering Summer Program, worried that she wouldn’t be taken seriously as a female engineer. But she discovered a supportive community dedicated to helping her succeed.
I was born in Kenya and lived there until I was about 9. I saw a lot of poverty and was always into helping people. I was thinking about taking a gap year to work at an orphanage when I heard about the Engineering Summer Program. I figured I liked math and science, and engineering is about helping people…maybe this is my way of making a bigger impact.
I was a little scared to enter the program. When I applied, I didn’t think I was going to get in because engineering has always been so inaccessible to me. Every time I think about an engineer, I think about a man, you know? I think about myself being creative and having all of these great ideas, but no one listening to me.
I don’t consider myself an aggressive go-getter. I shied away from a lot of robotics in high school because I was the only girl in that orientation. I remember one time I was in summer camp, playing Frisbee. I was the only girl in the team, no one ever passed me the Frisbee, and I was always getting talked over. I told myself I could never allow that—not in my work time! I was scared it was going to be the same situation in this program, but it wasn’t like that.
I knew Wisconsin existed, but I didn’t know much about it. Seeing the university and talking to the people, it seems like a great place. I’m so scared of going to college, but seeing how open-minded people are here and how beautiful it is, it made me think about it.
We took a lot of field trips in the Engineering Summer Program and did a lot of great stuff. Going to the Epic building was really fun. They had themed areas for the workers, and it was interesting to see it all.
We’ve learned from a lot of different people. Professors come talk to us, and a panel of current engineers talked about their experiences. They gave us advice on how to get to where they are.
It’s a very positive environment because every day you’re challenged. You’re working toward becoming an engineer, and they make you work hard to try to figure out what fits best for you.
Even though the program’s curriculum is pretty set, they don’t keep you from looking at other ways to get involved in engineering. Our instructors give us “things that might interest you” lists, with articles, other programs, and books.
It’s an amazing community, and they really try to make it diverse. A lot of programs claim diversity and then they have their token two students of color. The Engineering Summer Program makes it a warm environment for everyone.
Whenever I talk about my struggles, the instructors are always so kind. They make sure we’re all on track.
You’re surrounded by all these people that just want to see you succeed. They’re always backing you up. They’re ultimately your friends, and they want to help you grow and work harder.
The Engineering Summer Program is part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Engineering. Applicants must have a strong interest in math and engineering; be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident; be a current sophomore or junior in high school; have completed at least one year of algebra, geometry, and chemistry; and have a minimum unweighted grade-point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. For more information, visit the program webpage.
Research assistance by Michelle Concepcion.