Middle school students learn science, engineering and more on Tech Trek camp

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) Healdsburg is working to empower young women who are interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and the organization is doing so through its annual Tech Trek camp, a weeklong program that through an application process, selects a number of middle school girls to participate.

This year, girls from Washington Middle School in Cloverdale, Healdsburg Junior High School and Cali Calmecac Language Academy in Windsor got to experience the camp at Stanford University.

Tinkering

Tinkering — Aalyiah Calderon in Design Thinking Class.

With various chapters of AAUW, a total of 78 girls from across the Bay Area participated in the July camp.

In order to be selected, campers must pen an essay and an application as well as sit through an interview. If chosen, they receive a scholarship to attend the hands-on activity camp. Scholarships are made possible through donations from local businesses and companies, according to Karla Rosen, one of the chaperones on the trip.

For this particular camp, students participated in a core class and attended lectures and activities. This year, the core classes were engineering, cyber security, coding, marine biology and forensics. Guest speakers spoke on astronomy, chemistry, money management and technical project management.

Students were also asked to complete several projects, including a group project with their peers.

getting fishy

Getting fishy — Stacy Solorio dissects a squid during marine biology class.

Recently returned from camp, a group of local girls sat down with Sonoma West Publishers to talk about their experience.

Aalyiah Calderon, a Washington Middle School student, gave an overview of camp activities.

“The first day we did little activities once the parents left and we did activities so we could introduce ourselves and get comfortable with our dorm mom and we played games and took a tour of the university,” Calderon explained. One highlight of the tour was learning about the big clock on campus and how it runs.

On day two, the campers got to work and started their core class.

Calderon’s core class was coding.

“We used this app called Appinventer, which is a coding app that you can make games on,” Calderon said.

Throughout the coding class Calderon had to create her own game using the app and coding skills. Her game was a version of “Whack a Mole,” a two-level game with coded game noises.

“It is a lot harder than it sounds,” she assured.

Though throughout myriad events, the professional women’s showcase was Calderon’s favorite.

The event featured a showcase of women from different STEM related careers who came to the university to talk about their careers and work with STEM.

“It was really interesting,” Calderon said of the showcase.

Victoria Martinez, a student at Cali Calmecac Language Academy, had forensics as her core class.

“It was really fun, meeting new people and having a different school experience,” Martinez said. “We even got to handle DNA.”

While Martinez enjoyed learning about forensics she said her favorite activity was the stargazing class.

“It was fun, you could really see the moon up close and all of the craters,” Martinez said. She also enjoyed the money management and budgeting workshop, an activity where students were given a career and family and were told to budget for the month with a certain amount of money.

“It was interesting learning about how much you can waste on money,” Martinez said.

Gina Diaz-Hernandez, another Cali student, took cyber security. Hernandez’s project was an introductory take on computer science.

“For our project we were in the computer and looked at what is inside,” she said.

Budgeting was also Hernandez’s favorite activity.

Healdsburg Junior High School students Alissa Sommer and Stacy Solorio had their classes in coding/engineering and marine biology.

“The camp was really fun, it was a once in a lifetime experience. I mean it’s at Stanford,” Sommer said excitedly. “It was really awesome to get that experience through the scholarship from AAUW, it was very generous.”

Solorio also had positive things to say about the camp.

“My overall experience at Tech Trek was very positive, mostly because of the staff there and the people we got to meet,” Solorio said.

Her group project was to make a creation with a moving element out of only tape and rolled up newspapers. Her team decided to make a Trojan horse.

Solorio also got to spend a lot of time in her marine biology class, where she got to dissect a squid.

Budgeting was another crowd favorite for the Healdsburg students, but they also said they enjoyed the professional women’s showcase.

“There were so many smart and inspiring women,” Sommer said.

Pursuing STEM

After a weeklong STEM experience some of the students said they are interested in exploring more STEM topics.

Calderon said while she does want to pursue more STEM-related activities, she is looking forward to going back to the camp as a counselor in high school.

“I never heard about this camp, so it was interesting to learn that there was this camp to empower women to know that they can do basically whatever they want. It was a great opportunity,” said Calderon’s mom Marbella. “I was very excited for her because she works hard. I’m happy that she is getting opportunities that I didn’t get.”

Sommer said that in future she wants to be able to use the skills she learned during camp. For her, a dream job would be in a NASA-related role.

“If I was in the 1960s helping send the astronauts to space, then that would have been really special,” Sommer said.

Solorio said her dream job would be something involved with engineering or animation.

When asked why they think it’s important for women to be more involved in STEM, Martinez and Hernandez said since it is mostly guys in STEM careers it is nice to see women be involved to show that they have the same skills too.

For Rosen, this experience was first-hand, “When I was in college and I was in computer science I was the only girl in the class and in my first job I was the only woman.”

Editor's Note: Several other local Sonoma County students also attended the Tech Trek camp. Audrey Moberly from Windsor Middle School, Maya Carmona from Cali Calmacec Language Academy, Jennifer Osborne from Geyserville New Tech Academy and Tylie Hatcher from Washington Middle School also attended the camp.

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