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STEM summer camp at UCSB puts the focus on success for girls

Lisa Osborn, KCBX News

Science, technology, engineering and math are all school subjects typically geared toward boys, and represent careers fields dominated by men. But, there’s an effort taking place on the Central Coast to tutor adolescent girls in this so-called ‘STEM’ curriculum. 

More than 150 ‘tweens’ from throughout California—many from the Central Coast—are spending a week this month at UC Santa Barbara to participate in ‘Tech Trek’ camp. The event, sponsored by the American Association of University Women, offers middle school girls hands-on training in these STEM subjects.

The girls are placed in one of four tracks (science, tech, engineering or math), where they learn skills and collaborate to solve one of three world problems.

Girls on the technology track are learning how to build apps. The App Inventor course was developed in collaboration with MIT and Verizon, which provides funding for the camp, making it possible for girls to attend for no charge to them. Organizers said this portion of the program was so successful last year, it was greatly expanded this year.

While the girls are only schooled in one of the four STEM courses (which is chosen for them by organizers), during the course of the week they learn from their peers about the other subjects.

"The girls in the math course will teach the other girls what they know, so it’s receiving but also teaching,” said Katelyn White, 21. White is a Tech Trek graduate and is helping out this year as a dorm mom. “They have to figure out a way to help the other people around them grasp the concept that they were finally able to get in class.”

Organizers make an extra effort to ensure the girls also expand their social circles.

“Part of the experience is getting to know people you never would have talked to,” explained White. “Nobody from the same city is in a dorm group. Nobody from the same school is in the same dorm group or class. We go through and try to separate them completely.”

Camp director Susan Pease, says the biggest reward she receives is in watching the girls transformation from Sunday to Saturday. “It is so nice to see them just blossom and be confident,” said Pease.