Middle school girls study STEM at Tech Trek

Posted 10/30/19

Eleven 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.

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Middle school girls study STEM at Tech Trek

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Eleven 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 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. 19 at the Port Townsend Elks Lodge.

The students who attended Tech Trek were Julia Breitweg, Charlotte Capel, Ava Erickson, Kylee Johnson, Ella Kasperson, Josephine Mack, Ruby Mesas, Ruby Mills, Ava Shiflett, Virginia Su and Hazel Windstorm.

Off those 11, the only ones who were able to speak in person before the AAUW were Mack, Su and Windstorm, who attend Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend, and Capel, who attends the Sunfield Farm and Waldorf School in Port Hadlock, although Mills and Shiflett wrote letters that were read aloud.

The East Jefferson County girls joined close to 200 others from across the state and stayed at the dorms, for two weeks at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, then for a third week at Eastern Washington University in Cheney.

They studied various science, technology, engineering and math subjects in class, and they participated in lab experiments and field trips.

Capel, who studied robotics, was surprised to learn she liked programming, while Mack gained an appreciation for chemistry, which “I didn’t like before,” but dissolving a few shells in acid soon shifted her perspective.

Likewise, just as Mack enjoyed touching stingrays during a field trip to the aquarium, so too did Su get a kick out of her hands-on lessons in marine biology.

“We dissected a shark, which didn’t smell that great,” Su said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “But we also dissected a squid, before we fried and ate it. Surprisingly, it tasted really good.”

Windstorm has always been drawn to marine biology, but the process of dissecting marine animals was still different than she imagined, just as Capel hadn’t expected it to be so challenging to program a robot to perform Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”

All four girls in attendance expressed gratitude to their counselors and adult mentors, and agreed they enjoyed the college campus experience.

When asked what it was like to study alongside only other young women as students, Su didn’t notice much of a difference, while Capel found it “really cool” and empowering, and Windstorm admitted that it made her feel more free to “take chances.”

“There were less people goofing off,” Mack said, inspiring another round of laughter from the adult women in attendance.

When asked how they might choose to incorporate Tech Trek-style teaching into their everyday school experience, Su expressed an interest in performing more dissections, while Capel echoed Mack’s call for more hands-on lab work.

“I liked that the learning was more interactive, rather than just sitting down and listening,” Mack said.

All the girls were struck by how quickly the time seemed to pass, in spite of how many hours they spent studying each day, and all of them expressed interest in returning to Tech Trek as counselors.

“My sister was in sixth grade, so she was jealous because she wanted to do it,” Mack said.

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.

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