Photos: (Top) Gretchen Kellerstrass, 18, poses with her high school engineering teacher Mr. Shields after she won the Sonic Foundry Video in Education Scholarship. (Middle) Gretchen poses with her diploma from Kings High School in Kings Mills, Ohio in June. (Bottom) Gretchen will attend the University of Cincinnati in the fall. 

Ever since 18-year-old Gretchen Kellerstrass was in fifth grade she knew she wanted to attend the University of Cincinnati (UC) to become an architect. But that life plan changed her junior year at Kings High School in Kings Mills, Ohio when she took her first college-level engineering course through a dual enrollment program with UC. 

“I thought everything in our engineering class was so intriguing I just wanted to learn more,” she said. 

Gretchen was one of 140 students — only a handful of them female — from 10 area high schools to participate in the program. 

Using Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite webcast platform to create a flipped classroom, students view lectures by UC faculty online at their convenience, and classroom time is led by high school teachers who walk them through activities and explain how the lessons will apply to their lives and careers.

According to an article in EDUCAUSE Review, Closing the Gap: Addressing STEM Workforce Challenges, written by representatives of Microsoft and inSPIRE STEM USA Coalition, programs like these are in high demand. By the end of the decade, the article states that the U.S. economy will create 120,000 new jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree in computer science, yet the country’s higher education system is currently producing only 51,000 such degrees each year. The new program gave Gretchen and other incoming freshmen engineering majors at UC a big head start – they’ll have their first year of courses completed before ever setting foot on campus. It’s also successful in attracting female students and minorities to the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), which are currently dominated by men. 

Recognizing the important work UC is doing to remedy this problem, Sonic Foundry awarded UC a Rich Media Impact Award and a $2,500 Video in Education Scholarship to give to a high school senior. (Learn more about UC’s Mediasite story here.) Gretchen earned that scholarship and will start her first year of college this fall. I had the pleasure of chatting with her about her experiences and exciting career goals.  

What courses did you take through the dual enrollment program at UC? 

I took two courses through UC. The first one dealt with 3D software and understanding all the different fields in engineering, whether it’s mechanical or civil. In class we did a variety of hands-on projects, such as making a spaghetti bridge. That’s exactly what it sounds like. We built a bridge out of spaghetti, hung a hook in the middle to hold a bucket of sand, and whoever had the most weight in the bucket had the most tension. Therefore it was the sturdiest bridge. 

During my senior year I took a second dual enrollment course where I learned how to computer program. That was really interesting. It was cool that we were seniors in high school and the freshmen in college were doing the exact same thing. I received UC college credit for these classes, and they also counted as a math credit in my high school. 

What did you think of using Mediasite to watch lectures online?

This was my first experience doing an online course, and I really enjoyed it. I learn better from viewing something and doing things hands-on. So I watched the lecture first, and I could observe it and understand it. Then I could go into the classroom and do the projects. It worked well for me. 

Engineering is a male-dominated field. What inspired you to go this route?

It makes me sound like a nerd, but I really enjoy math. I loved doing all the blueprints for the engineering projects we were working on. It was kind of like architecture but involved more math. I also thought everything in our engineering class was so intriguing, I wanted to learn more and solve problems. I realized I could have so much more fun in life if I could learn more about physics and computers and all the engineering fields. Engineering is basically a giant brain teaser and you have to keep figuring things out. 

Currently I’m enrolled in UC’s mechanical engineering technology program. I’m also really considering electrical engineering and computer programming. 

In my first class there were 18 guys and one other girl besides myself. In my second class there were 10 guys and four girls. I knew there would be more guys. I expected it. It makes me sad that more girls aren’t interested in it, but I understand that it’s not for everyone. 

Why is it important for this and other similar programs to be offered to attract more women to the field?

In high school you really don’t know what you want to do. If you kind of like math and science, then girls or guys can take the classes in high school to test the waters. If they like them they can continue in college. It’s one check mark off their list. That’s exactly what it did for me. I never really thought engineering was a route for me, and now it’s going to be my life. 

What are your career aspirations?

I would really like to work for GE or BMW. I think that’d be really fun. I’d personally really like data analysis and designing car engines. There’s a BMW base in Munich, Germany, and there’s a co-op program you can do with UC. I hope to do that.