It’s Not Just for Boys: Girls Are Into Math and Science Too


Media Relations

April 18, 2012

It’s Not Just for Boys: Girls Are Into Math and Science Too

Area High School Girls Will Explore High-Tech Careers as Part of Annual “Design Your Future Day” Program

More than 200 10th and 11th grade girls from the Capital Region, other parts of New York state, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and across New England will participate in the “Design Your Future Day (DYFD)” program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday, April 21. The annual event is designed to engage students in activities to inform and excite them about degree programs and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines.

“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2010 women comprised 47 percent of the civilian labor force that is 20 years old or older,” said Barbara Ruel, director of Diversity and Women in Engineering programs at Rensselaer, and program director of the day’s events. “Yet the most current data from the National Science Foundation indicates that in 2006, women made up 14 percent of the science workforce and 12 percent of the engineering labor force.

“Rensselaer is working to change that,” Ruel added. “Design Your Future Day gives young women the opportunity to explore intellectually stimulating and exciting degrees and careers in math, science, technology, and engineering and to meet young women like them who have already chosen to pursue such careers.”

Some participating local high schools include Albany High, Ballston Spa, Bethlehem Central, Broadalbin-Perth, Colonie, Central, Columbia, Doane Stuart, Emma Willard, Glens Falls, Guilderland, Lansingburgh, Mohonasen, Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, Schoharie Central,  and Troy.  Fifty-seven  percent of the visiting students are from the state of New York, including Great Neck, Brooklyn, and Glens Falls. Schools from New England make up 39 percent and the remaining schools are from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The event will take place on the Rensselaer campus from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Darrin Communications Center and other campus locations. The event is hosted and sponsored by Rensselaer School of Engineering. Additional sponsors include BAE Systems and the Gene Haas Foundation.

The 15th annual program will kick off at 9:45 a.m., with a welcome address by Rachel Gitajn, class of 2006, who was a double major in mechanical engineering and product design. Gitajn is a project engineer for Burton Snowboards, based in Burlington, Vt. During her junior year at Rensselaer, Gitajn applied for an engineering internship with Burton Snowboards, and spent the summer working with the company’s engineering and R&D team. Following graduation, she was offered a position with the company.

Combining her passions and technical interests has always come naturally to Gitajn. As a high school student in Rockville, Md., her love of art and creativity was equally reflected in her physics projects and her paintings.

While at Rensselaer, the Product Design program appealed to Gitajn as a unique opportunity to apply creativity, as well as a social and environmental context, to her engineering studies.  Even with a rigorous workload, she always made time to pursue her passions. Gitajn played club sports, chaired the Women’s Mentoring Program, and also bought a season’s pass so she could snowboard regularly at Stratton Mountain in Vermont.  

At Burton Snowboards, Gitajn says that she has found herself at home among a team of passionate engineers and innovators who strike a balance between challenging work and an active life in Vermont’s outdoors.  

In addition, Gitajn has brought her passion for mentoring to Burton, founding the Burton Women’s Mentoring Network in 2007.  She is also active in Burton’s employee environmental group, leading their alternative commuting initiatives.  Outside of work, Gitajn serves as section representative for her local Society of Women Engineers chapter and e-mentors collegiate engineering students.  In her remaining leisure time, Gitajn can be found snowboarding, playing ice hockey, mountain biking, playing bike polo, or hosting her weekly radio show.

As the keynote speaker, Gitajn will share her personal stories and aspirations, and the lessons learned in college and after college about excellence, leadership, persistence, and how she fused her personal creativity and interests in a professional career path.

The program will also feature a panel discussion by undergraduate scholars and alumnae, and 15 workshops led by Rensselaer graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumnae. They include: materials science and nanotechnology; safety in the use of radiation for imaging and radiotherapy; smart lighting; embedded control systems; how to harness electricity to make a wind farm; the design and manufacture of biomedical devices, engineered tissues, and artificial organs; natural and synthetic polymers and their application; industrial and management engineering; protecting human safety with robots; and manufacturing.

The program also provides a parallel schedule for parents, and includes an interactive discussion with representatives from Admissions and Financial Aid, the Center for Career and Professional Development, the Office of the First-Year Experience, the Dean of Students Office, and Residence Life. During these sessions, parents will learn how universities are preparing students for the 21st century workforce, how women are thriving on a male-dominated campus, and why women are choosing to pursue STEM careers.

Since its inception, more than 3,000 female students have participated in the Design Your Future Day program. In addition, Rensselaer graduates have gone on to pursue careers such as product design engineers, systems design engineers, business analysts and consultants, mechanical and aeronautical engineers, medical researchers, biomedical device engineers, doctors, dentists, patent attorneys, architects, and officers in the military.

Design Your Future Day is part of a larger effort at Rensselaer to engage young people in science and engineering studies and professions. Other “pipeline” programs include: Black Family Technology Awareness Day, to interest area young people and their families in pursuing occupations in the fields of science and engineering; and Exploring Engineering Day, to spark the interest of scouts and other children, ages 9 to 12, in STEM disciplines.

Sample Design Your Future Day workshops that will be offered from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m. include:

* Peek Inside the Exciting World of Polymers: Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, room 3145

Students will learn the differences between natural and synthetic polymers, and experiment with the properties of these smart materials, as well as discover how they are applied in cosmetics and regenerative medicine.

* It’s Hot Being Nano: Jonsson Engineering Center, room 3207

Students will explore the exciting field of nanomaterials. During the session, the group will talk about heat at the nano-scale level and what supercomputers and cancer have in common. Students will also heat up particles of different sizes and determine which are the hottest.

*Minimizing Suffering After Catastrophic Disasters: Low Center for Industrial Innovation, room 3130

Students will explore how to tackle the challenge of delivering life-saving supplies to a site impacted by a catastrophic disaster, and gain insight about the definition of procedures and techniques to ensure an expedient response.  

* Engineering at Rensselaer Is Sweet: Advanced Manufacturing Lab, Low Annex, room 1027

Students will learn how to assemble a box of candy in the Advanced Manufacturing Lab and learn the different processes including robotics and automation, plastic injection molding, 3-D printing, and water-jet cutting.

* Safety in the Use of Radiation for Imaging and Radiotherapy: Low Center Annex, room 4040  

Nuclear engineers design and apply nuclear technologies for medical uses such as imaging and treatment of cancer. Students will learn how ionizing radiation such as X-rays can create an image of the human body, and “virtual patient” research at Rensselaer is helping to ensure patient safety.  

* Harness the Wind & Generate Electricity: Jonsson Engineering Center, room 3117

Students will learn how to use meteorological data, information about the electrical grid, wind turbine capacity, cost, and pricing estimates to design their own wind farm.

For more information and to view the 2012 Design Your Future Day program, go to:


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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, over 30 research centers, more than 140 academic programs including 25 new programs, and a dynamic community made up of over 6,800 students and 104,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include upwards of 155 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration. To learn more, please visit