Girls Explore STEM Camp
Grade 3-12 Education Grant Recipient: Stephanie J. Zojonc and Laura Schultz
Grant Period: 2015-2016
Site: Minnesota State University, Mankato
During elementary school, children are socialized to believe various things about themselves and the world around them. If young people don’t develop a drive to pursue their passions or begin to think that they are not smart enough to enter certain fields, then their opportunities for future economic, professional, and personal success may be stifled. This is especially true for those who have historically been underrepresented in various professions, including women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that girls from a young age be exposed to professional female mentors in STEM careers and be allowed to foster a genuine and passionate interest in science and math.
The Girls Explore STEM Camp, which was held in July 2015, is organized and managed by the Women’s Center of Minnesota State University, Mankato and the Minnesota Center for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence to reduce the gender gap in STEM fields and provide the opportunity for young girls to learn more about science and math in a supportive environment. The students participate in hands-on activities that expose them to a variety of STEM career opportunities, including veterinary care, engineering, nursing, web development, biology, astronomy, robotics, and environmental science.
The campers also engaged in regenerative labs using planaria, a type of flatworm. These specimens are often used in basic regenerative education, as their bodies regrow fast enough for students to analyze over the course of a single week.
The camp featured several women mentors who have achieved success in STEM fields, including an engineer from Verizon Wireless, a civil engineer, nurses from Mayo Clinic, radiology technologists, a veterinarian, and several professors and scientists. Additionally, camp counselor volunteers who are pursuing Women Studies undergraduate degrees organized team-building activities that focused on positive reinforcement, female empowerment, and self-esteem.
Regenerative Medicine Minnesota (RMM) helped defer some of the costs of the camp that ranged from the activity fee to laboratory supplies. The grant also allowed the campers to sleep in a dormitory during their overnight stay (originally scheduled in the gym), giving these students the opportunity to have a taste of the college experience. The camp was even able to hire a professional retreat organizer for additional group-led activities.
Ultimately, the girls walked away with a self-empowering experience which helped to further catalyze their interest in STEM fields. Initiatives like this are needed to reduce the gender gap in STEM careers and give young women the opportunity to study any field they wish.
Stephanie J. Zojonc is the STEM Outreach Director for the Minnesota Center for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence (MNCEME) and is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She received her Masters of Science in Biology Education from Minnesota State University, Mankato and has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Life Science Education. Zojonc is currently a licensed 5-8 science and 9-12 life science teacher.