East Bay hosts all-girls STEM camp

Photo courtesy of Popochen

Kali Persall,
Managing Editor

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School isn’t out for summer at Cal State East Bay.

Last month, around 100 middle school girls from across the Bay Area learned about science, technology, engineering and math education through a four-week camp called Eureka! held at East Bay’s Hayward campus.

Through the month of July, Monday through Friday, girls attended workshops for STEM education, sports, health and sexuality and sisterhood, according to Shayna Whitley, a coordinator for the camp. The program was put on by Girls Inc. of Alameda County, a national nonprofit that offers five-year summer programs to teen girls across the country.

This is the third year East Bay has hosted the camp. “It’s just so important for our girls to be on a college campus so they feel comfortable and know they can obtain that and they belong there,” said Judy Glenn, chief operating officer at Girls Inc.

The camp focuses their curriculum on STEM education and environmental engineering. Middle school girls at the camp learned how to design sneakers based on different physical activities, build websites and learn HTML, according to Glenn. They also designed sunglasses, bridges and thermometers, how to build prosthetics and create enteric pill coatings during their visit, said Whitley.

STEM fields and disciplines are rapidly expanding throughout the country, attracting attention from policy-makers. In 2010, President Obama proposed to invest $250 million in STEM education as part of his “Educate to Innovate” campaign.

The California Department of Education reports that the growth of jobs requiring STEM education is rising in California and that in 2012, for every job-seeker, there were 1.5 available jobs. STEM jobs are expected to grow 21.4 percent over the next five years and a 2016 report published by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy estimated that by 2018, there could be 2.4 million available jobs in STEM disciplines.

The Eureka! camp aims to prepare eighth through twelfth-grade girls for college by giving them work experience, helping them earn scholarship money and “fostering career interests in industries positioned for exponential growth, such as STEM,” according to Girls Inc. The organization serves 140,000 girls throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Eureka! recruits girls from low-income families, primarily from Oakland and San Leandro, who are considered “academically average” but show interest and potential, said Glenn. Each year the program takes in a cohort of 45 new girls and 80 percent of the program’s attendees are the first in their families to attend college, said Glenn. The 30 college-bound senior girls finishing the program this year are enrolled in universities and junior colleges in the fall.

“The STEM profession certainly is increasing in diversity; however, it seems to be in very specific areas,” said Whitley. “I see a lot of women of color in the medical profession and perhaps even in engineering. But, when we branch out to other areas of STEM such as physics, biomedical engineering and even computer science, the amount of women of color seems to plummet.”

Statistics reveal that STEM disciplines are still largely dominated by men. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that women make up 47 percent of the total workforce in the U.S., but only 26 percent hold jobs in the STEM industry. Only 7 percent of these are women of color. The Office of Science and Technology Policy reports that women with STEM jobs have been found to earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs.

East Bay offers degrees and certificates in STEM education through the Institute for STEM education.

During the first two years at the STEM camp, girls are introduced to the college campus environment. Years three and four place the girls at job sites and with paid internships at jobs around the Bay Area, such as PG&E, hospitals, architect firms and water pollution and control plants in San Leandro, according to Glenn. The girls receive a $400 stipend for the four-week internships.

The fifth year focuses on gearing girls up for college, said Glenn. The program helps girls write college essays and focus on their target schools. At the end of the year, Girls Inc. puts on a “college shower” to raise money for college supplies like laptops, lamps and bed sheets. Glenn said last year they raised $55,000.

According to East Bay’s Office of Communication, students from Edna Brewer Middle School and Northern Light Middle School in Oakland and John Muir Middle School in San Leandro participated this year. East Bay is the only college to host the camp for Bay Area branch of Girls Inc., confirmed Whitley.

The camp concluded with a competition between 12 teams for “scholarship dollars,” or monopoly money, said Whitley. The team that won the most scholarship dollars won a trophy.

Girls were challenged to build a tower out of spaghetti and marshmallows, build a fort out of cardboard, create new outfits from recycled materials and old clothes, participate in a workshop given by a Greek organization on campus, create a song to express their camp experience and compete in three-legged, wheelbarrow and various other races.

In total, 12 girls received awards for leadership, sisterhood, positive risk-taking and “Eureka! Attitude,” or giving 100 percent in every activity throughout the summer, said Whitley.

Eureka! was free to attendees and is funded mainly through private donors and foundations.