Unlike many people, Meehan Lenzen ’11 knew what she was going to do from a young age. “It was kind of predetermined,” Lenzen says, laughing. “(My dad) was very adamant that my sister and I both get engineering degrees in school. I always liked math and science, but my Intro to Engineering class (at Notre Dame) is what enabled me to stay (involved).”
Lenzen graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in environmental geosciences, leading to a successful career at GE Aviation, where she has worked since the summer after her sophomore year. However, she never took the support she had for granted. If anything, it motivated her to help young girls in a similar position she once was in. In 2014, one of her colleagues at GE, Michaele Carney ’04, founded the GE Girls at Notre Dame STEM Camp, one of about 20 camps the company helped establish across the United States. Lenzen quickly became involved in leading one of the workshops at the week-long summer camp. One year later, however, she was leading all of them.
Lenzen’s hard work and dedication arise from a deep passion for gender equity in STEM. When deciding where to go for college, Lenzen noticed that the ratio of women to men in STEM classes was much higher at Notre Dame than at other schools. She was also aware that not all women have equal access to pursuing an education in STEM, as well as the importance of starting young in such a nuanced, competitive field.
“We want to make sure anyone, regardless of their economic status, regardless of where they live in the South Bend community who’s a middle school student, has the ability to come to camp,” Lenzen says. Funding from GE allows the camp to remain free of charge and provides the campers with breakfast, lunch, and a snack, as well as a bus route to the Stinson-Remick Hall of Engineering, where the bulk of the camp takes place.
The camp begins by introducing the girls to a woman in STEM who may not be well known but has made significant contributions to the field. The girls participate in about a half dozen tried and true activities that the camp features every year, “covering everything from aerospace engineering to chemistry to designing a prosthetic leg.”
It is such a popular camp that girls can only attend one summer in order to ensure that it reaches as many participants as possible. However, attendees are encouraged to return for Alumni Day on the Wednesday of subsequent camps to remain connected with Lenzen and other camp leaders. Once in high school, participants may even return as junior counselors and are eligible to apply for a SWE (Society of Women Engineers) scholarship offered through GE Girls. In fact, Lenzen knows of “at least one” young woman from the earliest years of the camp who is currently pursuing a STEM degree in college.
Setting up the camp is far from a one-woman band, of course. That’s especially true for the Notre Dame camp, which distinguishes itself from other GE-sponsored camps because it is the only one not hosted near a GE facility.
But overcoming that challenge is far from rocket science thanks to the incredible Notre Dame alumni network. Several Notre Dame alumni travel back to campus each summer to help out, including Katie Ritter ’13, who co-runs the camp with Lenzen. The camp’s activities are designed by 10-12 GE employees in collaboration with Notre Dame professor and Society of Women Engineers advisor, Dr. Victoria Goodrich. “She’s worked with us since day one. This camp would not be here if not for her,” Lenzen says.
Lenzen’s tremendous work is not limited to the camp — though she has moved around a lot for her job, Lenzen has consistently participated in efforts at local middle and high schools. It also has not gone unnoticed — not only by all of the campers and their families but by her peers as well. Carney nominated Lenzen for the 2022 Domer Dozen, a group of twelve young Notre Dame alumni who are honored annually “for their significant contributions and extraordinary dedication to faith, service, learning and work.”
When asked how Lenzen has grown since the two met at the first camp almost a decade ago, Carney notes Lenzen’s growth in leadership and planning but was also quick to emphasize how Lenzen has stayed the same. “(She had the) same level of energy when I first met her. She’s always had such a drive to give back.”
One of the most important lessons the 300-plus girls the camp has hosted learn, as Lenzen says, is that “we learn just as much from the failed experiences as the ones that are successful.” However, Lenzen’s commitment to service has proven successful. “It’s just exciting to be able to impact people’s lives in the South Bend community,” Carney says.
Lenzen, and everyone who is a part of making the camp so successful, is definitely doing just that.