Denver High School Girls Get Their Hands Dirty at Summer Manufacturing Camp

Project DIY Summer Camp Introduces High School Girls to Manufacturing Programs and STEM Careers

This summer, 18 girls from Denver Public Schools got their hands dirty at Community College of Denver’s (CCD) Project Do It Yourself (DIY) summer camp. The camp gave students from 9th, 10th and 11th grades hands-on experience in manufacturing programs and exposed them to women leaders in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

The idea behind Project DIY is to engage young women in careers that are non-traditional for them such as welding, machining and engineering graphics and mechanical design. Two week-long camps were held and financial support was provided by The Women’s Foundation of Colorado.

Each day brought about a new introduction to STEM careers, including talks from Ala Ahmed, Civil Engineer, and Debra Wilcox, owner of The 3D Printing Store.

“It’s been really great to see all of these women who are in the engineering field,” said Cassidy Nicks, a sophomore at East High School. “It’s been a really effective way to learn about STEM careers and the engineering field.”

A tour of the woman-owned Clear Intentions glass recycling plant in Denver brought a flurry of questions for owner Brittany Evans. Students were intrigued by the idea of a woman having a vision for her own company, designing it and now running it successfully. The upbeat Evans encouraged the girls to have a vision and act on it. She also reminded them that “it’s OK to be the smart girl in class!”

“The girls really liked the tour and meeting Brittany,” said Rachel Pavelko, CCD Project Manager for Project DIY. “Meeting a successful woman business owner was so empowering for them. They asked a lot of questions and some of the students from CEC middle college also expressed interest in starting their own glass collection at their school.”

The high schoolers discussed the stereotypes and perceptions women are taught about traditional female and male careers. It was impressed on them that these stereotypes are not the reality, but that they have led to a low percentage of women working in STEM fields which are dominated by males. The girls eagerly stated that these stereotypes will not be a reality for their generation or for future generations as well.


student welding
Project DIY camper Nardos welding with help from CCD welding instructor John Wenner

“It is so important for young girls to have these hands-on and engaging learning opportunities because in so many ways girls are being told that STEM isn’t for them,” said Louise Myrland, VP of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado. “Programs like CCD’s Project DIY make it possible for girls to develop the skills needed for career success in STEM fields and to discover how fun it is too!”

The final two days of the camp, spent at CCD’s Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC), a new state-of-the-art 30,000 square-foot training center for CCD’s welding and machining educational programs, were the high point of DIY. There, the girls were introduced to CAM software and manufactured a 3 ½ inch model wheel on CNC machines. This was attached to a piston keychain made of brass and aluminum for each participant to take home.  

The sparks flew when the girls were given the chance to observe a live welding demonstration, which introduced them to stick and TIG welding techniques. A welding simulator provided a hands-on experience while a few attendees practiced actual stick welding with the assistance of one of CCD’s welding instructors.

The final project brought broad smiles after the girls created their initials in metal using the CNC plasma cutter.


high school girl using a drill press
Caroline Pease learning about Machining

“This camp changed my opinion of what I can do,” said Caroline Pease, a junior at East High School. “We learned so much so quickly. I can only imagine how much I can learn over a whole college career. It’s just incredible and opened my mind about how much I can do in the future.”

The camp concluded with the students hosting their families to a ‘show and tell’ of what they made and learned. Students fostered bonds of friendship and revealed what’s possible in STEM career fields.

“It’s been great; I actually feel like I did something productive with my summer,” said Melissa Roman, a junior at MLK Early College. “This has been a life changing experience and has opened my eyes to a lot of things.”