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Engineering program targets girls in middle school.

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The University of Memphis plans to build lots of bridges -- some of them real ones -- this summer.

In partnership with the Women's Foundation of Greater Memphis, the U of M's Herff College of Engineering will be offering Girls Experiencing Engineering (GEE) for the first time. The program, consisting of two one-week sessions, is aimed at keeping girls interested in science and engineering through middle school. The girls will build bridges and test how much weight they can hold, make small motorized cars, and meet female engineers.

"Research has shown that girls start out equally interested in science and math," said Anna Phillips of the school's civil engineering department, "but by fifth grade, they start to think it's nerdy and they don't pick it back up." Nationally, women account for only 11 percent of engineers. Over the past two decades, the number of women enrolled in undergraduate engineering programs has remained the same.

"Middle-school girls are exponentially more mature than boys," said Phillips. She had students in an earlier program keep journals and she noticed that girls were frustrated that their ideas weren't considered when they were in the mixed-gender groups. "The girls would write that they made a suggestion but 'He didn't listen to me so we did it wrong and then we had to go back and do it again my way.' We're trying to see if we can spark an interest in engineering."

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