CLEMSON — Duke Energy is continuing to support two separate Clemson University summer programs for middle school girls and incoming university freshmen this year with an $85,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation. Both programs are aimed at increasing diversity in the pipeline that carries talent from the classroom to the workplace.

One program, Project WISE, shows middle school girls the opportunities awaiting them in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, at a time when peer pressure tends to drive them away. Another program, the PEER and WISE Experience, is giving 50 incoming freshmen a head start on academics and campus life.

Girls in Project WISE build and race remote control cars to learn about mechanical engineering.

Girls in Project WISE build and race remote control cars to learn about mechanical engineering.

Both programs are designed for students from groups who are underrepresented in STEM fields, including women and minorities. The programs are organized by PEER and WISE, which are sister programs that support underrepresented groups in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences.

“We know that quality education programs like these are critical to creating the high-tech, diverse workforce we need for the 21st century,” said Kodwo Ghartey-Tagoe, Duke Energy’s South Carolina state president. “Partnering with great institutions like Clemson University help our communities continue to grow and produce skilled workers who bring new ideas and innovations to our lives.”

About 60 middle school girls attended Project WISE earlier this summer. This year’s program targeted Title I schools in the Pee Dee, a region where Duke Energy is working to have great impact.

Girls attended mini-courses in a range of topics from electrical engineering to computer science, taught by Clemson faculty and staff. Ten undergraduate Clemson students lived in residence halls with the Project WISE girls.

Serita Acker, the director of PEER and WISE, said that since Project WISE started in 1997, many of the program’s alumni have gone on to become Clemson students majoring in STEM disciplines.

“All of the research shows that middle school is when you start thinking about what you want to do,” Acker said. “What makes us unique is we have all these young women in our college who serve as role models. Students can see what they could be like in the future.”

The PEER and WISE Experience began its inaugural three-week run on July 9.  It is based on two previous summer “bridge” programs aimed at helping ease students’ transition to college. Students are studying college calculus, physics and chemistry and learning about research, graduate school and success strategies, such as time management.

They live in the residence halls and have a chance to build relationships that can help carry them through college. The program gives students a chance to begin finding their way around Clemson’s 17,000-acre main campus. Students also meet alumni, providing them role models to emulate.

Duke Energy has helped fund this program for the past 20 years, along with Clemson’s Emerging Scholars program and the National Science Foundation’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.

Acker said Duke Energy has long been key to the success of PEER and WISE and thanked the company for its latest contribution.

“It not only plants the seed of STEM, it plants the seed of what the future can be when you get a college education,” she said. “Together, we are keeping the pipeline filled with diverse talent.”