Camps at area colleges give youths hands-on experience
July 04, 2006
Deseret Morning News
By Erin Stewart
Madison Black sits with her legs dangling into the stream below her, dipping her toes into the water.
Unlike most 13-year-old girls, Black is enjoying a different kind of summer day by the water's edge. Instead of her tan, Black is worried about the acidity of the water.
"I like learning. The world fascinates me," Black said as she jots down the pH readings indicated by the greenish color on a test strip.
Usually, Black is one of the only girls in her middle school class who is passionate about science. But today on the stream cutting through the Westminster College campus, Black is surrounded by 13-year-old girls who are just as excited about science.
The girls-only science camp at Westminster offers Salt Lake girls the chance to jump into science experiments during the summer before eighth grade. One of several area science camps for middle-schoolers, the Westminster girls camp costs only $25 for a week of programs and lodging thanks to federal grants.
"I thought it'd be neat to meet girls who love nature and science as much as I do," said Black, who aspires to be a pediatrician. "It doesn't seem like there's very many girls, so we find common interests in what we want to do with science in our future."
The goal is to get girls interested in science before they have to make decisions on what classes to take in high school, said Carolyn Connell, associate dean of arts at Westminster. The summer camp - titled AWE + SUM Camp - can get girls started on a path to a career in science, a field that is woefully behind in gender equity, she said.
"Women continue to be somewhat underrepresented in the math and science fields. It's better than it was 30 years ago, but still not on a par with men," Connell said. "This is encouraging them to think about those professions that are traditionally male-dominated fields."
In addition, the summer science camps get girls thinking about going to college, period. Spending a week on a college campus with other girls gets the campers comfortable in a college setting, she said.
And the moderate cost targets girls from lower-income homes who may not have many opportunities for summertime learning.
"It's a critical age. It's an age when girls lose self-esteem, self-confidence, and that includes confidence in their abilities to do math and science," Connell said.
To make sure the summer science lessons don't go by the wayside once school starts, Connell meets with the girls the following January to ensure they are choosing classes that can help them get to college and into a science major.
"If they don't prepare, then they sort of close off some options for future careers. If you get to college and you're behind in math and science, there are certain majors that become difficult to pursue," she said.
Along with the girl's camp, Westminster also runs several other math and science camps for boys and girls in high school. From aviation to personal finance, the camps are geared to helping students prepare for college.
At Salt Lake Community College, an emphasis in science is also drawing elementary school students into computer labs and high-tech experiments. The "Slick" summer workshops allow students ages 11-17 to get a glimpse into the field of engineering during the four-day camps.
"The girls love it, but they are a little intimidated by the math and science," said Sharon DeReamer, coordinator of the SLCC workshops.
For Lindsey Tucker, 11, the SLCC camp is a way to get the hands-on experience that she doesn't usually get in her regular school. A Lego robot complete with touch sensors, for example, isn't something she would normally get to build during school hours.
Her favorite experiment, though, was creating a sound system using a memory board and resister plugs.
"You had to memorize it and figure out where everything goes. It made you use everything from school," she said.