Girls science and technology summer camp at SSU inspires next generation of female inventors

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Aliyah Smith concentrated on using a soldering tool to remove excess plastic parts from her newly designed miniature house in a small neighborhood she was building for vibrating robots only an inch tall.

Smith, 13, was one of 24 middle school students on Tuesday participating in the Girls Tinker Academy at Sonoma State University. The competitive two-week summer camp for girls is focused on crafting and science, technology, engineering and math, with a capstone project presented on the final day to parents and teachers.

Scattered around a large work space on the second floor of the university’s Schulz Library, girls were sewing reconstructed skirts and jeans, designing objects using computerized 3D modeling programs and using a vinyl-cutting machine, as SSU math and statistics professor Natalie Hobson looked on and gave advice.

Kamila Salazar, 13, worked on sewing a strand of LED lights on a black and silver fabric bag that she designed. Her hope is to finish the backpack to use it as a freshman at Maria Carillo High School in the fall. In addition to sewing, Salazar learned how to use nearly every machine and computer program offered to students enrolled in the camp, but said diving into the fabric box with hundreds of different colors and patterns has inspired her the most.

Being part of an all-girls camp for the first time has been empowering, she said.

“Most girls I feel like are held back behind men or they themselves don’t feel they have the power to be on the same level as men,” Salazar said. “Here we can find the power to do this all on our own.”

Smith, who has a lofty goal of finishing the miniature plastic neighborhood for robots by using the 3D computer- modeling device, likes the camp because she can finally be herself, she said, and connect with other students with similar interests.

“In the classroom, sometimes girls are overlooked, but here we can do whatever we want, like be nerdy and talk about Star Wars, and also come out of our shells,” said Smith, a freshman at Maria Carillo.

Hobson has been the lead teacher advisor for the girls science and technology camp since it launched last year as a Career Technical Education Foundation of Sonoma County program. She spends most of her time as a professor teaching college students by following a strict syllabus, which is why being part of the summer camp is fun for her.

“For me, getting to see these girls explore and learn gets me so excited about their curiosity,” Hobson said, as she helped a student with a backpack design.

Sebin Park, 12, designed a handheld battery-operated fan that glows in the dark to cool off during hot summer days. Sebin’s father works as an engineer, but being at camp has given her the chance to use computer design and modeling for the first time, she said.

“It’s awesome because these machines are super expensive, but if we mess up they let us try again and again,” said Sebin, a seventh-grade student at Rincon Valley Middle School.

Sebin also said having the opportunity to attend an all-girls science, math and crafting camp has been an inspiration.

“In the past girls were told to stay at home and now we can make a real difference in the world,” she said. “We are also people who can make a great impact on the future of our world.”

You can reach Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or alexandria.bordas@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @CrossingBordas.

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