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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU Provides Incoming Female Engineering Students with Valuable Program to Help With Adjustment to College

The incoming female engineering students participating in Old Dominion University's selective Early Engineering Advantage Program (EEAP) will start their studies this month, inspired by a real-life role model.

ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology established the EEAP in 2001 to attract, retain and develop female students in the traditionally male-dominated field of engineering. Working with corporations, faculty and other university departments, EEAP students participate in targeted activities that expose them to the field of engineering. It's meant to foster socialization among incoming female students, and allows them to share common experiences with fellow engineering students.

The EEAP is credited with helping ODU have the largest percentage of female engineering students of any higher education institution in Virginia.

As part of the program, the aspiring engineers took a tour of W R Systems Ltd. in Norfolk, a leading provider of strategic business consulting services and products for industry and government.

During the visit, the students met Mamta Patel Nagaraja, a NASA engineer who manages Women@NASA, an interactive online project that spotlights successful female engineers working at NASA in all fields (http://women.nasa.gov/). Nagaraja is the lead writer for the Women@NASA blog, and utilizes social media to target bright young students to aspire to a career with the agency.

Nagaraja, also an adjunct professor at Catholic University, spoke with the ODU students about how to succeed as a female engineer in a traditionally male-dominated profession.

The ODU Career Management Center's Beverly Forbes, director of experiential education and liaison to the Batten College, said it's important for engineering students to see role models who have overcome barriers.

"On average, our female engineering students at the Batten College do as well, or better, than the college population as a whole. The EEAP program helps acclimate students to college-level engineering education, but more importantly, provides peer mentorship that can help guide and inspire them," Forbes said.

The four-week EEAP program is funded by the Virginia Space Grant Consortium and the Batten College. Throughout the competitive program, 15 incoming female freshman engineering students each summer are exposed to the engineering profession and Batten College curricula in an interactive fashion. The four-week program includes tours of local engineering companies and government agencies.

Forbes said Nagaraja was a fantastic role model for the impressionable young students to hear from just before their first semester of college. "What an inspiring career Mamta has had," she said.

Nagaraja worked previously at NASA's Johnson Space Center, training astronauts who flew aboard both the U.S. space shuttle and the International Space Station. During her career, she has been awarded the NASA JSC Center Director's Award and NASA's Exceptional Service Medal, two of the agency's highest honors.

She is a member of Women in Aerospace, and gives talks through NASA's Speakers Bureau.

Nagaraja recently completed an around-the-world trip, performing outreach in developing countries and hiking to the base camp of Mount Everest. She is an avid health enthusiast, running marathons and half marathons across the world, and she co-founded Team Asha Atlanta, a marathon training group that raises money for education programs in India.

While at W R Systems, the EEAP students also met with Wendy Pennington, another NASA employee and graduate of ODU's Batten College.

In addition to the tour of W R Systems, the EEAP students visited the Lockheed Martin Center for Innovation, and met Oktay Baysal, dean of the Batten College, and ODU Provost Carol Simpson.

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