Inside Rensselaer
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Design Your Future Day

Area high school girls explore high-tech careers as part of annual program

More than 200 10th and 11th grade girls from the Capital Region, New York state, and across New England participated in the Design Your Future Day (DYFD) program at Rensselaer on April 16. 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, only 12 percent of all engineers in the labor force were women.

“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.”

The 15th annual program kicked off with a welcome address by Laura Wontrop ’08, an advanced operations engineer for General Motors. Following graduation,

Wontrop began working for General Motors, where her first assignment was to present customer needs to global program development teams. She is currently working on a temporary assignment where she meets with teams from across the world to gather data to develop a computer model that would be capable of determining the number of employees optimally required to produce all GM vehicles.

While at Rensselaer, Wontrop was the first female undergraduate to lead a student team from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to design, build, and race a formula-styled race car in competition. Wontrop shared her personal stories and aspirations, and the lessons learned in college and after college about excellence, leadership, and persistence.

“The very first time that I came to RPI as a high school student, one of the first things that I saw when we drove into campus was a giant sign on the bridge over 15th Street that said, ‘Why not change the world?,’” said Wontrop. “It was a simple question but it really stuck with me — why wouldn’t I change the world? What’s standing in my way? The answer is nothing. An engineer is a problem solver. You make the world a better place by fixing or enhancing.”

Wontrop encouraged students to think about a career in engineering, find ways to take their math and science abilities to a new level, and consider how they would want to change the world.

The program featured a panel discussion by undergraduate scholars, and 14 workshops led by Rensselaer undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. In addition, the program provided a parallel schedule for parents, and included 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.

Since its inception, more than 3,000 female students have participated in the Design Your Future Day program. The event was hosted and sponsored by the School of Engineering. Additional sponsors included Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems. For more information, go to

Photos by Travis Cano

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 7, April 15, 2011
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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