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Math, science explored at Tech Trek

Santa Clarita Valley junior high school students recount adventures at AAUW Tech Trek

Posted: September 23, 2009 10:40 p.m.
Updated: September 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Parents and supporters listen to campers relay their Tech Trek experiences.

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Sprinkles, whip cream and an interest in math and science were mixed together to create a new kind of Ice Cream Sundae during the recent American Association of University Women's Tech Trek Ice Cream Social.

Held at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall, the AAUW Santa Clarita Valley Branch sponsored the social to welcome home 10 SCV junior high students from a week-long experience at Tech Trek Camp, the California-based program supported by the organization.

Tech Trek was formed out of the organization in 1998 to offer seventh-grade girls in California a one-week residential math, science and technology summer camp on a university campus.

The intensive program provides participants entering the eighth-grade a chance to explore and expand interests in the fields of math and science through hands-on activities, projects and field trips.

Led by experienced teachers and guest presenters, the girls learned that the world of math and science is something to write home about.

"It's so exciting to hear about their experiences and see how much they've grown just in one week," said Tech Trek coordinator, Robin Clough. "You can see in their eyes that they are inspired to keep learning. It gives everybody goose bumps to hear the impact that the camp has had on their lives."

The program is unique to the state of California and accepts applicants based on academic merit and displayed aptitude in the highlighted fields. Honorees are nominated by their junior high school teachers and must write a personal statement reflecting their goals and interests.

The students must also participate in an extensive interview process with the Tech Trek committee, before being determined a scholarship recipient.

"This process gives them a taste of what it might be like to apply to college," said Mary Margaret Sunker, the SCV AAUW chapter's publicity chairwoman.

Coming home from camp, the girls were given a sweet surprise. Community members, local sponsors and campers' families delighted in an array of ice cream, set up by the chapter.

Guests mingled over bowls of the creamy treats before joining together to hear an informal presentation given by the campers themselves.

"I had so much fun and I know I got to do something that not everyone gets to experience," said Katelyn Martinez, 13, a Sierra Vista Junior High student. "It was special and I'll never forget it."

Martinez was one of eight SCV students chosen to visit Whittier College.

The experience gave the girls a chance to live like college students, equipped with meal cards, dorm rooms and of course, shared community bathrooms.

"Most of these girls have never lived with anyone but their own families," said Sunker. "They get a perspective of what it is like to have roommates and make new friends while learning."

The Whittier girls weren't the only ones who came home with this experience. Campers were also given the option of visiting California State University, Fresno, where two participants trekked to live in Baker Hall and learn like never before.

"We were kept so busy, but we learned totally new and interesting things that kept us going," said Jenny West, 13, a Placerita Junior High School student.

West bunked up with Lexi Bergstrom, 13, a Castaic Middle School student, to tour the campus and begin their week of eye-opening activities.

Whether on Fresno or Whittier campus grounds, all 10 campers were given a hefty itinerary, geared to challenge and inspire the young minds.

Campers were assigned core classes in either math or science, which they attended on a daily basis.

Participants chose from core classes in advanced mathematics, while also given a choice for science related fields such as Forensics and Anatomy.

Campers also picked up their choice of an extra-curricular activity.

Campers were also met by professionals and teachers in the fields of interest and were guided through an array of projects and experiments.

Field trips were also taken to places such as Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology as well as the Long Beach Aquarium to explore sea-floor creatures.

Learning about women in history was made fun for Whittier recipients, who chose famous characters such as Amelia Earhart and Isadora Duncan to first learn about and then perform skits explaining their lives and careers.

"We all had so much fun that it was like being with all of my best friends," said Martinez.

One participant had an experience in the forensics lab that she won't soon forget.

"We actually got to examine a real cadaver," said Taylor Coulter, 13, Arroyo Seco Junior High School student. "I had never seen anything like that before and it really interested me in Crime Scene Investigation."

But Coulter wasn't the only participant in the CSI lab to discover something new.

"I used to want to be a veterinarian, but now I think forensic science is where I belong," said Bergstrom. "The important thing is to keep an open mind and let your dreams change. I know that this is what I am interested in."

Self-discovery is not something new for recipients of the program. A survey conducted among past recipients revealed 96 percent are currently enrolled in college. All previous "Trekies" credited the camp for encouraging their interests and increasing confidence in their ability to succeed in areas of math and science.

Opening minds and encouraging exploration is something that AAUW has long advocated. Founded in Boston in 1881, the national nonprofit organization stands strong in its mission to advance equity for women through advocacy, education and research.

The organization was formed by a group of 17 female college graduates and remains one of the oldest in the country dedicated to women's rights. AAUW has grown to approximately 100,000 members spanning the United States in more than 1,000 chapters.

"It is always such a pleasure to see young women grow from this process," said Diane Bartley, AAUW SCV branch president. "Our Tech Trek girls get the opportunity to see jobs out there that didn't even exist before. They gain awareness that women have careers in fascinating fields and that they can do it, too."

The SCV branch was formed in 1968 and celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. The branch stays active with membership brunches and meetings as well as an annual Math/Science Annual Conference for SCV junior high school girls. The organization also holds Women in History presentations and the speaker series, Women Activating Change.

"Women today have more opportunities than ever before," said Clough. "Reaching these girls at this age gives them a head start towards their bright futures. It's a beautiful thing to see."

Mathematician, Marianne Subbarao said encouraging the study of math and science is important.

"You just can't do enough for girls at this age to get them excited about these subjects," said Subbarao. "These are extremely important fields to engage in and grow from."

The cost of the program ranges from $750 to $800 per camper. Sponsorships from SCV businesses, organizations and community members, help fund the program.

"Some people may see kids who are interested in math or science as ‘geeky.' but I think it's anything but that," said West. "I can't pick a favorite moment because I loved everything about it from beginning to end. It was the time of my life, so far."

For information about the American Association of Women Tech Trek Math and Science Camp for Girls, and how to become a member of AAUW, visit www.aauw-scv.org.

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