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Camp encourages girls to pursue careers in STEM fields

While women have made academic gains over the decades, they continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The American Association of University Women’s local chapter has led a weeklong camp at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park to pique middle school girls’ interest in STEM careers. Known as Tech Trek, the camp offers a variety of hands-on activities, labs and field trips, including a visit to a wastewater treatment plant.

For many of the 90 girls, it was the first time they’d been to camp or stayed on a college campus. The camp, which ends Saturday, gave them a chance to work alongside women in the fields of astronomy, biology, engineering and physics.

“That’s really inspiring,” Jailynn Lozano, 13, said about working with women in the math and science fields. “It makes me feel like I can do it, too.”

Lozano, who lives in Martinez, wants to be a nurse, although she previously was interested in the veterinary field. Earlier in the week, she had a chance to examine animal bones to try to figure out how the the creatures died.

“It’s the perfect age to be learning about these things,” she said.

The program is designed to make STEM fun and accessible to girls in middle school, a time when their participation drops in these fields, camp officials say.

“We hope they take away a fascination with science and math and confidence in themselves in working in those fields,” said Rory Keller, a camp director.

“It shows them they can do it, that they, too, can succeed in the STEM field,” she said about the camp.

Women make up an eighth of working engineers, while representing a quarter of those in computing, according to a recent study by the American Association of University Women.

The camp started at Stanford in 1998 before spreading to campuses across the state and U.S. The camp at SSU is one of 10 in the state.

It costs about $1,000 per girl to put on the camp, Keller said, but the girls only have to pay $50 each thanks to money raised by various American Association of University Women chapters.

“This is the kind of thing that I would have loved to go to as a kid myself, but there certainly was nothing like it,” Keller said.

Kristen Deleon, 13, of Vallejo, spent Thursday morning crafting a boat out of clay and then loaded on small plastic cubes to test its buoyancy. Classmates watched as Deleon carefully placed one cube at a time inside the boat.

“Thirty-six!” instructor Ann Wimer exclaimed when she learned how many cubes it took for the girl’s boat to sink.

“That’s amazing, but it’s not the record,” Wimer said, encouraging Deleon and her classmates to continue finding ways to improve their boats.

Deleon said she’s a fan of science and math but not many girls at her middle school share her passion.

“I’ve made a lot of friends here,” she said, while some of her classmates tested out hot air balloons they made of tissue paper. They plan to launch the tethered balloons today.

“It’s cool that people share my interests,” said Deleon, who would like to one day become a pharmacist.

Arianna Feemster still remembers the excitement she felt when she first attended camp in 2013. “It was like, ‘Oh, look! There are girls like me,’” she said, beaming.

This is the third year Feemster, 16, who lives in the East Bay, has returned to Tech Trek as a junior camp counselor. She said it has served as an inspiration for her to continue taking math and sciences courses, so she hopes to encourage other girls to do the same.

“I hope they walk away with the same enthusiasm,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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