Two 12-year-old Brookfield girls spent two weeks last month at a camp at Triton College, learning about manufacturing and how to design and make a product. Melaina Muth and Hannah Turcotte, who will both be seventh-graders at George Washington Middle School this fall, attended Triton’s GADgET Girls camp. 

Muth designed and built a bed tray, while Turcotte designed and built a desk organizer.

“It was very fun and exciting,” Turcotte said. “We learned how to work together and learned how to make your ideas into reality.”

GADgET stands for Girls Adventuring in Design Engineering and Technology.

The camp was created by Antigone Sharris, the coordinator of engineering technology, CAD/CAM/Robotics at Triton and is designed for girls from age 12 to 16, although the age limits are somewhat flexible. Fifteen girls, ranging in age from 10 to 16, attended the camp at Triton College for two weeks in July.

The camp is limited to girls, which left Turcotte’s twin brother, Austin, a little envious. But Sharris said that it is important to limit the camp to girls.

“We live in a society that, I hate to say it, they like to gender-fy job functions and there’s a preconceived notion of who does what,” Sharris said. “There are stereotypes that that kind of job is for guys and that kind of job is for gals. It’s a commonly understood issue that a lot of females do not go into engineering; it’s a very male dominated profession. 

“And in order to try to get females to enter our world you almost have to restrict the program to females only, to one gender only. Otherwise the boys will get registered before the girls will ever get a chance.”

Sharris said Triton also ran an automotive camp and a computer programming camp this summer that were open to both boys and girls, but only boys registered. Limiting the GADgET camp to girls allows girls to participate without feeling intimidated by or deferring to boys, Sharris said.

The camp is a female-only experience. It is led by Sharris and her Triton faculty colleague Andrea Blaylock. The high school and college-age mentors are also girls, and the guest speakers are women.

“Our goal with this program is not about just running a summer program,” Sharris said. “It’s about empowering young ladies.”

In the first week of the camp the girls went on four factory tours and heard from speakers. They visited the M&M Mars factory; Century Spinning, a metal spinning factory; Ex-Cell Kaiser, a manufacturer of storage products; and Dudek and Bock, a spring manufacturer on the West Side of Chicago owned by a Riverside family.

In the second week of the camp, the girls focused on building their products using equipment such as a laser cutter.

Muth enjoyed the camp especially using a miter saw and a band saw.

“I liked it a lot,” Muth said. “I did think that sometimes we could have spent time doing other things instead of having guest speakers, as we did a lot of the time. But it was really fun and educational, because I learned to use some tools that I probably wouldn’t ordinarily use.”

The camp seeks to expose girls to career options that they might not normally consider.

“You can make a very good living as an engineer in manufacturing,” said Riverside resident Kathy Dudek, of Dudek and Bock.

Sharris, who worked in manufacturing before going into teaching, is passionate about getting girls, everyone really, interested in manufacturing.

“It’s an entrepreneurship camp, that’s what it really is,” Sharris said. “It covers manufacturing, because you can’t sell a product you can’t make. They design and engineer their own gadgets.”

Muth and Turcotte have been close friends since they met in kindergarten at Lincoln School. It was nice to have friend at the camp.

“I didn’t feel like I was, like, alone,” Muth said. “I like making new friends, but sometimes it kind of feels hard to do it, because it’s new people and you don’t really know how to introduce yourself.”

Muth said that she chose to build a bed tray because it was something that her dad had talked about making but hadn’t got around to yet.

Turcotte said that she decided to build a desk organizer, because it was something that she needed.

“My desk is very messy, so I needed some way to fix that,” Turcotte said. “I liked building the product.”

Every participant in the camp received a tool kit from Home Depot. 

But they left the camp with more than a tool kit.

“It was a really great experience,” Turcotte said. “We got to go on all the tours and we got to build our product and learn how to do that stuff.”