Ten middle school girls from East Jefferson County got a chance to study a wide range of STEM subjects in a college environment this summer, and they presented information about their learning excursion this month.
Tech Trek, the weeklong science and math summer camp, was sponsored by the Washington State chapter of American Association of University Women, whose Port Townsend branch welcomed the girls to speak about their experience on Oct. 20 at the Port Townsend Elks Lodge.
The students were: Robyn Weaver, Rylee Floerchinger and Trillium Burbank from Chimacum Middle School; Samantha Stromberg, Anna Molotsky, Halie Jones and Adeline DePalma from Blue Heron Middle School; and Camryn Hines, Juniper Cervenka and Magdalena Grace from the Sunfield Farm and Waldorf School in Port Hadlock. DePalma was unable to attend, but she submitted a letter that Jones read aloud.
The East Jefferson County girls joined others from across the state and stayed at the dorms at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. They studied various science, technology, engineering and math subjects in class, and they participated in lab experiments and field trips.
"Tech Trek's goal is to promote interest in future careers in science, engineering, mathematics and technology, areas in which women are typically underrepresented," said Faye Beuby, who handles publicity for the Port Townsend branch of the AAUW. "Working with professional women in STEM fields, these girls can choose various disciplines for their week's pursuits, including cybersecurity, robotics engineering, marine biology, app development and chemistry."
The girls, now eighth-graders, were nominated by their teachers and selected through interviews by the Port Townsend AAUW's Tech Trek committee and the University Women's Foundation, with funding drawn from AAUW/UWF projects, as well as a grant from the Cross Foundation.
Weaver's field trip day included a visit to the Museum of Flight in Seattle. While her performance in the flight simulator was somewhat uneven, she met a female military pilot who inspired her to follow a similar career path.
"At school, I'm often the only one who enjoys science classes," said Burbank, who admitted to being teased occasionally, but she insisted she's "cool with being a nerd."
Nonetheless, Burbank found Tech Trek a liberating experience, even if she did "just about puke" from taking part in animal dissection, and she credited the STEM summer camp with introducing her to a number of likeminded scientific young women with whom she's kept in contact.
Stromberg found the unit on cybersecurity deeply useful, since "I'm on the internet a lot," so she appreciated being able to identify a number of online scams.
Like Weaver, Stromberg is now considering a career in aviation because of the female pilot she met.
In the meantime, her fear of being injected with needles was alleviated after she practiced administering a shot on an orange.
"I was interested in every class because all the teachers loved what they were doing," said Molotsky, who hopes to return as a counselor for other girls. "Every one of the students was smart and motivated and interested in STEM."
Jones was excited to work with the LEGO Mindstorm robotics kits, especially since the challenge she was tasked with was modeled after the Mars rover, albeit with more linedancing between the robots.
"We learned about the lifecycles of stars, and how everything we are is basically made of stardust," said Jones, who sympathized with Burbank's aversion to animal dissection but was ultimately glad that Tech Trek "made me try things I never would have tried before."
DePalma's letter declared that Tech Trek had "exceeded my expectations," and it also gave her a taste of college life.
"I hope to major in marine biology or astronomy in college," said DePalma, who echoed Molotsky's aspirations of becoming a Tech Trek student counselor.
Hines was one of a number of students to cast nets in a creek in order to record the numbers and type of marine life they pulled from the water.
Cervenka reacted to the novelty of "not being the only one in my class interested in math or science," but she was even more excited for the implications of such opportunities for "the next generation of girls," and she joined the other East Jefferson County students in thanking the AAUW for making their Tech Trek experience possible.
"I learned that flounders start out like normal fish, then turn over onto one side," Hines said. "And they can only reproduce with other flounders who have turned over onto the same side as them."
Grace was the first — but not the last — to admit she felt "a little nervous" at first, but not only did she meet other girls who shared her concerns and found them to be "super funny and nice," she also discovered an interest in robotics, which she'd never studied before.
"This has been a truly empowering and inspirational experience," Grace said. "This has opened my eyes to my future career and my life in STEM."
When asked how Tech Trek differed from their regular classroom experience, Jones said students at the STEM summer camp got more done.
"There was less goofing off, because everyone who was there wanted to learn," Jones said.'
Molotsky agreed: "At Tech Trek, everyone was on a different level, but everyone wanted to help each other out," she said. "In school, sometimes you just want to get through the day."