UT camp aims to spark girls' interest in science, math

UT camp aims to spark girls' interest in science, math

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Nearly three dozen middle school-aged girls participated in UT's first Adventures in STEM summer camp. Nearly three dozen middle school-aged girls participated in UT's first Adventures in STEM summer camp.
The students took park in various activities and tours on campus, planned by faculty and education staff at each center. The students took park in various activities and tours on campus, planned by faculty and education staff at each center.

By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Education Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - If you want to guarantee yourself a job in the future, study science, technology, engineering and math. That's the message being told in schools across the country right now, but statistics show girls are less likely than boys to pursue those careers.

The University of Tennessee is working to help close the gender gap with a new science summer camp just for girls.

Nearly three dozen middle school-aged girls participated in UT's first Adventures in STEM summer camp. The girls say they were excited to spend a week of their summer vacation learning about science. 

"I really love it!" rising eighth-grader Mackinzie Lenoci said. 

"I sort of like doing math, science, and engineering," 11-year-old Yukai Tomslvic added.

The week-long day camp in June was a collaboration between the Center for Ultra-wide-area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT) and National Institute for Mathematical & Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) research centers on UT's campus.

The students took park in various activities and tours on campus, planned by faculty and education staff at each center.

"We're trying got spark interest in science from an earlier age," explained Adam Hardebeck, communications coordinator for CURENT Engineering Research Center.

From building a solar oven out of a pizza box to creating as many shapes as possible in geometry, everything at the camp was hands on. The courses were taught by women working in the fields the girls were learning about.

"We've done a lot of engineering in the mornings," said Tomslvic, who will be in seventh grade next year. "We've made a solar cooker, generators, and we did circuits."

Cara Poole, 14, said she has enjoyed learning about so many new things.

"Yeah, today we're experimenting with the possibilities of geometry," she said.

"We did a disease model yesterday for science," 13-year-old Lenoci added. "It was a handshake disease, which I don't think actually exists, but it was really fun."

The students learned about different career choices in STEM too.

"We want younger people, and especially girls, to see that science is interesting and fun," said Hardebeck.

Hardebeck demonstrated cardboard dance pads the girls made using circuits.

"When you step on one pad, that bulb lights up," he explained. "Then step on these other two, and they beep."

Some students said their parents enrolled them in the class because they thought it would be interesting for their daughters. Others students said it was their idea.

Many of the girls already have an idea of what the future holds.

"I want to be a forensic scientist when I grow up and major in genetics," said Lenoci.

"I might want to be a bio-engineer, or maybe a chemist of some sort," said Tomslvic.

For each student, the spark of interest in science was ignited by someone or something they experienced.

"I've liked it ever since I was six," said Lenoci, "and it was 'CSI' that gave me the idea, because I've watched that for like a long time."

"My dad is an electrical engineer and my mom does research," said Tomslvic.

The students also got to watch female researchers, engineers and scientists at work, and had an opportunity to ask questions about career choices.

Their instructors hope the camp and others like it will get more girls interested in STEM careers, which are historically dominated by men.

"Science sometimes can be gory, and a lot of girls can't handle that kind of stuff," Lenoci noted. "Others just think it's a men's thing, but others do it because they think it's a men's thing and they want to breech that barrier."

No matter why they enrolled in the camp, all the students will leave it with a greater appreciation for STEM. 

As one student said, they still have plenty of time to figure out what they want to be when they grow up.

"I'm not really thinking about that yet," said Poole. "As a kid, I'm more concerned about what I'm going to get for Christmas."

Nearly 30 girls took part in the Adventures in STEM camp this year, and nearly twice number had applied.

The school plans to expand the program next year.

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