Today more than ever, women are entering the professional workforce armed with college degrees and a willingness to do all it takes to succeed. There are more female CEOs than at any other time in our nation’s history, and working mothers are commonplace at most businesses big and small. While this trend is encouraging, it’s not to say that all things are now equal. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), Washington women make 78 cents to every dollar men make at the same position, ranking 35th in the country when it comes to pay equality.
AAUW is a national charitable nonprofit organization that works to change the climate for women and girls. This is done through education, research, advocacy and philanthropy. One of the organization’s most successful programs is its summer Tech Trek camp for girls who’ve just completed the seventh grade.
“Girls are traditionally underserved in STEM opportunities and careers,” said Gig Harbor AAUW Chapter President Barbara Schmit. “Tech Trek provides an outstanding educational opportunity for young women that opens their eyes to possibilities and develops self-confidence in making meaningful choices for their futures.”
Tech Trek got its start in California more than 20 years ago when AAUW member Marie Wolbach decided to use recently acquired grant money to open a week-long math and science camp for girls on the Stanford University campus. The success prompted an additional 10 camps in California alone, and in 2013 the organization decided to take the program nationwide. Ten states now have at least one Tech Trek including Washington, which is adding a second camp this summer.
Roughly 150 girls from across the state will be invited to attend a Tech Trek camp this summer at either Pacific Lutheran University in mid-July or Eastern Washington University in late-July/early-August. Girls completing seventh grade who have shown an interest in science and math are nominated by their teachers for the program.
“Math and science teachers may nominate up to five seventh grade girls based upon their interest, aptitude and the benefit that they would receive from this amazing opportunity,” said Schmit.
Nominees then complete an application including an essay. Based upon the nomination information and the application, students go through an interview with Tech Trek AAUW Gig Harbor Committee. After the interview in all of the middle schools, girls are selected and notified of their selection.
If selected, the girls in the Gig Harbor area are responsible for only a $50 registration fee as the remaining $950 cost for Tech Trek is covered by AAUW through donations, sponsorships and scholarships. The Gig Harbor chapter of AAUW will be helping to send 11 of those girls to camp this summer. This is the seventh year Gig Harbor AAUW will be sponsoring girls to go to camp.
Once at camp, the goal is for young girls to be able to see themselves as future scientists, mathematicians, engineers and computer specialists. This is done through hands-on learning from professionals in multiple fields as well as previous campers who have continued their interest in fields of technology. One day the girls might be building and programming robots and the next they are learning about cyber security and coding computer and phone applications. They learn chemistry, how to extract DNA and dissect marine life. They get a grasp of physics by studying the effects of roller coasters on the human body, learn medical skills and even crime scene investigation techniques.
“These opportunities are few and far between. Having such an outstanding experience in our area for local girls is amazing,” said Tech Trek/STEM Program Chair Claudia Thompson.
AAUW has 35 branches across the state of Washington but also reaches out to areas where they don’t currently have a group. In fact, in 2018, 11 girls came from parts of the state where AAUW does not currently have a branch.
Students come back from camp with new skills and confidence. AAUW gets to hear feedback and is always happy to hear about the impact Tech Trek is having on these young minds:
“This experience has let me know of other options for me to pursue in my life.”
“I loved everything that I learned and I made so many great friends.”
“It was great to learn so much and to stay on a college campus! It gave me some idea of how it will be to go to college.”
“Best experience of my life!”
The Pacific Lutheran Camp runs July 14 through the 20, and the Eastern Washington University Camp runs July 28 through August 3. AAUW is seeking volunteers for both camps in several areas. The girls will be staying in campus dorms so dorm monitors age 21 and older are needed. Health aides and student counselors are also needed as well as teachers and workshop presenters. Financial donations that go toward paying the girls’ camp costs are also always welcomed. You’ll find an easy ‘donate’ link on the organization’s website at AAUW-WA.aauw.net.