By Sonja Wendt
Can you imagine a place where girls can fall in love with science or technology? The American Association of University Women, or AAUW, has been sending seventh grade girls to week-long science camps since 1998. Called Tech Trek, the camps focus on hands-on learning designed to help campers find their passions in STEM subjects, which are science, technology, engineering and math.
Studies show that interest in science, technology, and math wane after middle school, but Tech Trek changes all that. The top girls are nominated by their seventh grade science teachers, then complete a rigorous application process. Girls selected are those with strong interests in science and the result is magical! The camps are jam-packed with learning from morning to night and take place at Southern California universities, including Whitter College, University of California, Santa Barbara, University of California, Irvine, and California State University, Fresno. At each campus, over 60 girls are assigned to core learning groups such as Marine Biology, Forensics, Cybersecurity, or Rocketry. In the evenings they learn about the college application process or making an emulsion under the guidance of a chemist and keynote presenter. Field trips can include a trip to the Endeavor Space Shuttle with an engineer who helped build the rocket engines or to a cadaver lab at USC. The Tech Trek camp fuels the sparks of science and technology in these girls and inspires them to follow their dreams.
AAUW works with sponsors and conducts fundraising all year. The girls’ families are charged just $50 to attend, but the cost per camper is about $1,000. The Santa Clarita AAUW chapter plans to raise funds to allow 26 SCV girls to attend Tech Trek camp this year.
The main fundraising event is the Book Lovers Luncheon on Saturday, February 3 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the award-winning TPC Valencia Oaks Grille. Enjoy a delicious lunch and keynote presentations by authors Natashia Deon and Deen Ferrell. Ms. Deon is author of the critically acclaimed novel, “Grace,” and a 2017 NAACP Image Award nominee. Mr. Ferrell is the author of the award-winning series, “Cryptic Spaces” and screenplay “More Bull Than Dozer.” Cost is $65 per person, and 100 percent of net proceeds go to fund the cost of the Tech Trek camp. Simply contact Diane Bartley at email@example.com to reserve your place.
The AAUW Santa Clarita chapter also awards an annual Humanities Scholarship and a Book Scholarship at College of the Canyons. The non-profit group also sponsors the popular Women in History event in April at local schools, where volunteers bring history to life by portraying influential women on stage.
The chapter celebrates its 50th Anniversary in May and is seeking past members to help celebrate. AAUW welcomes new members (both women and men), and additional sponsors and funding. Contact Ms. Bartley or Sonja Wendt at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Hero of the Week
Diane has been an advocate for STEM education and careers, and an advocate for women her entire adult life. In 1994, she saw an advertisement for a kids’ science and math conference sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She was intrigued, so she decided to explore. When she did, she was introduced to AAUW’s Santa Clarita chapter and some amazing women and mentors who wanted to make a difference for girls in STEM education. Diane became involved in helping to organize the annual science and math conference.
In 1998, AAUW began a hands-on free summer camp program called Tech Trek. Through this program, top seventh grade science students, who are nominated by their teachers and complete a rigorous application process, are selected to attend. The camps, held at Southern California universities, allow the girls to attend daily science or math classes and field trips. They live in the dorms, so they get the full university experience and interact with women who model a high degree of science, math, or computer expertise in their daily lives. It results in young women who have the self-confidence and interest to pursue a science or technology education. Studies show that after seventh grade it becomes tricky when new distractions enter into the lives of young students, but that girls’ interest in STEM subjects can be sustained if they are exposed to the careers available to women in science and technology today.
This is where Diane comes in. After joining AAUW, she became immediately involved in supporting, first, the Science and Math Conference, then its successor, Tech Trek. She has held a number of positions in the chapter, including two terms as president. But, her heart is in supporting Tech Trek and for many years has been the lead on this program. This is a big job which involves not only overseeing the selection process for the participants, but also year-long fundraising of the $1,000 tuition per girl.
Diane says, “Just seeing the difference in the girls from the awards ceremony in the spring to the ‘Welcome Home’ party in the fall is so worth it. Girls who were shy and hesitant have blossomed by fall. Their self-esteem has grown by leaps and bounds.”
Of course, Diane will tell you it takes many volunteers to make the program successful, including her mentor, Jane Hanson; head of the selection process, Ginny Gregor; grant writer, MJ West; and co-chair of the Book Lovers Luncheon fundraiser, Dianne Millkin. There are a host of others who help. Then, of course, there are the girls themselves who help by writing personal thank you notes to the sponsors. These heartwarming notes about their personal experiences reflect the girls’ growth and continuing thirst for knowledge.
Once Tech Trekkers return home, they are invited to periodic field trips to businesses and opportunities to interact with women in STEM careers. These trips and mini-reunions allow the girls to re-fuel their interests and fine-tune their career paths. Diane leads this effort too. In all, the SCV chapter of AAUW has supported 175 girls since its inception.
Kudos to Diane for her interest, passion, and perseverance in keeping this program going. Diane, you have made a difference in dozens of lives. You are my hero!
If you are interested in joining AAUW to help, attending the Book Lovers’ Luncheon on February 3, or in providing financial support, contact Sonja Wendt at email@example.com.