Twenty-three middle school girls from various Sonoma County schools participated in the Tinker Academy STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) showcase on Aug. 1 at Sonoma State University.

Participants for the program were chosen based on applicants’ demonstrated passion for STEM-related projects and activities.

The program is hosted by the School of Science and Technology at Sonoma State.

According to a press release from the Career Technical Education Foundation, the camp encourages girls to “dream, make and innovate.”

Camp activities include computer coding, 3D modeling, crafting, robotics and sewing.

“I’m humbled to be working with these amazing 23 middle school girls these past two weeks. They learned a lot,” said Natalie Hobson, assistant professor of math and statistics at Sonoma State and the lead instructor for the Tinker Academy. “They learned how to use the sewing machine, the 3D printer, the laser cutter, the vinyl cutter in addition to a collection of amazing coding skills and circuitry and it is just amazing to see their curiosity and be in their presence.”  

Classwork also includes presentations that are designed to inspire and motivate girls to pursue STEM-motivated careers.

Ciara Torres, a student at Geyserville New Tech Academy, Rebecca Paluvicki from Washington Middle School in Cloverdale and Atiana Gonzales from Cali Calmecac Language Academy decided to work together in a group for their project.

Throughout the two-week camp the girls worked on creating a science-themed board game.

The aim of the game is to answer questions on outer space in order to be the first to the finish line. For instance, a question card could ask a player how many moons a certain planet has.

“We made a board game which is called Space Race and you race spaceships — you have to put the spaceships together, and we have prizes which are different types of stickers,” Torres explained.

The trio made all pieces of the game, from the laminated question cards to the 3D printed space men and spaceship game pieces.

“We also laminated the cards and I wrote all of these questions and I 3D printed all of these movers for the game,” Paluvicki said.

“My favorite part of the project was working with my friend Ciara and I really enjoyed using the vinyl machine because I love stickers and I liked using the 3D printer because now I have an interest in making, so now I kind of what to be an engineer,” Gonzales explained.

While Gonzales said she had fun working with the project, a difficult part of the camp was creating a motor for one of the individual projects.

Camp creations

Camp creations — Geyserville New Tech Academy student Ciara Torres, left, shows off her hair scrunchies that she made in addition to her group project during the two-week Tinker Academy at Sonoma State University.

“The part that was kind of frustrating was when we were making that machine,” she pointed to a small plastic cup that had be used to create a fan with a small motor, “because my motor was not perfect, so I had to struggle with and tinker with it, so that wasn’t the best part, but soon after I got it to work,” Gonzales said.

For Paluvicki, her favorite part was also using the 3D printer.

“I liked designing the 3D prints and it was really cool watching the 3D printers print them, they actually took quite a while though, they took about an hour,” Paluvicki said. “It was really fun, I really enjoyed it.”

When asked if she wanted to pursue something STEM related, Paluvicki said she is interested in robotics engineering.

Getting younger students interested in STEM at an early age is a key aspect of the summer tinker camp.

“The research shows that we lose girls as they get older and become young women — we lose more and more of them going into these fields, so the idea of this is to start early,” said Kristin Loheyde, director of resource development for the Career Technical Education Foundation, the organization that holds the camp in partnership with Sonoma State.

However, with this group of students Loheyde said, “The students that I talk to, none of them have any inhibition, they know what they want, they’ve got the drive, their curiosity is really inspiring.”

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