Aaliyah Bailey went to camp last month. But not just any camp. The 10-year-old Forest Park girl, who will start sixth grade at Forest Park Middle School later this month, attended a two-week GADgET Girls Camp at Triton College. The camp is geared to introduce girls to the possibility of careers in manufacturing.

GADgET stands for Girls Adventuring in Design, Engineering and Technology. Each girl is expected to design, engineer, and build a product that could be sold.

Bailey decided to make a desk organizer. 

“I like baking so I made it the shape of a cake,” she said. 

She used two pieces of reclaimed wood along with pieces of plastic. She learned how to use a laser cutter and a band saw and other power tools, then learned how to glue her pieces together. And she picked up some other important lessons, as well.

“I learned the importance of safety and keeping your work area clean,” said Bailey, who was one of the youngest girls at the camp, which is held on the Triton campus in River Grove.

The camp was started five years ago by Antigone Sharris, the coordinator of Engineering Technology and CAD/CAM/Robotics at Triton, and is designed for girls age 12-16, although the age limits are somewhat flexible. This year, 15 girls attended the camp from the western suburbs.

Bailey’s older sister, Taylor, 18, served as a mentor at the camp. Taylor Bailey graduated from Walter Payton College Prep High School in June and this month will be heading to St. Louis to start her freshman year at Washington University. All the mentors are girls.

Forest Park resident and library board member Andrea Blaylock is the co-coordinator of the camp. Blaylock, who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from North Carolina A&T University, is a member of the Engineering Technology Department at Triton.

During the first week of the camp the girls visited four factories and heard speakers who work in manufacturing.

“Most of them are women-operated businesses in the Chicago area, so they actually get to see women in manufacturing; they get to see that process,” Blaylock said. “It’s important that our young ladies be exposed to these types of activities so they can have choices.” 

Blaylock said that, despite being one of the youngest campers, Aaliyah Bailey fit right in.

“She was always on task,” Blaylock said. “She jumped right in. She knew what she wanted to do. She had very good, well-thought-out ideas. She did all the building and painting of her cake desk organizer. She is a very pleasant young lady.” 

The camp is limited to girls because Sharris and Blaylock feel that girls are often steered away from careers in manufacturing and engineering.

“There are stereotypes that that kind of job is for guys and that kind of job is for gals,” Sharris said. “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. Otherwise the boys will get registered before the girls ever get a chance.”

Sharris noted that Triton sponsors an automotive camp and a programming camp during the summer that are open to both boys and girls, but no girls signed up for either camp as boys quickly filled all the available spots.

And having boys around would intimidate some girls and might make them hold back and not step up to do things, such as working with power tools, Sharris said. Building self-reliance and self-confidence is an important aspect of the camp.

“I’m trying to get girls empowered,” Sharris said, “so they can do things themselves, but I’m fighting an entire social norm structure. Our goal with this program is not about just running a summer program; it’s about empowering young ladies.”

She believes manufacturing is neglected and often looked down upon in the United States, but it is an essential part of selling a product.

“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.”