STEM Sisters Summer Camp sparks student interest in STEM fields

“Good morning Sisters!”

Sixth grader Analisa Rodriguez started each day the same way at the annual STEM Sisters Summer Camp. It was her first time participating in the two week camp and she said she’ll miss the variety of challenging activities and the camaraderie of the sisterhood when it ends.

In its fifth year, STEM Sisters brought together 140 fifth, sixth, and seventh grade girls from 17 Title 1 schools for a free, two-week camp focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The curriculum also incorporated other subject areas including Language Arts and geography.

It was hosted at three middle school campuses, Jones, Pease, and Ross middle schools.

“You have to be a risk taker,” said seventh grader Savannah Mitchell. “You won’t know if you can do something until you try. Other people can’t tell you your future.”

Mitchell is participating in the annual STEM Sisters Summer Camp for the fourth time.

“During school, we have assignments and there’s more pressure because you can get a bad grade. Here, you can take as many tries as you need to get it right. It won’t happen on the first try. Sometimes it gets frustrating but you can talk to your group and figure it out.”

There were two main challenges for students this year: to design a hand pollinator (agricultural engineering) and an aid drop package (package engineering). Groups began by working together on ideas, but each student ultimately created their own projects.

“When you let them explore, imagine, and create themselves, it is problem-solving they’re not always used to,” says STEM Sisters coordinator Lisa Rollins. “They need grit and perseverance as they keep improving their work over and over again. By the end, they’re so proud of what they’ve done and how they’ve learned to be successful.”

There were also smaller projects during camp, called engineering brain breaks, such as making bristle bots with toothbrush bristles and batteries (electrical engineering) and sugar scrub and lip gloss (chemical engineering).

Females are often underrepresented in STEM fields so guest speakers were invited to speak about their careers as scientists, engineers, data center employees, and more.  The groups also took a field trip to Southwest Research Institute.

“It’s a realization that jobs in their future have STEM,” Rollins said of the importance of introducing the STEM Sisters to successful STEM female role models.

Nyza Espinoza, a sixth grader at Vale MS, loved the field trip and already said she wants to get an internship at Southwest Research when she turns 16.

“I’ve always wanted to be an engineer like my Dad,” Espinoza said. “They fix problems and help make so many super important things. At STEM Sisters I feel like a butterfly, because I can go anywhere and try different areas of engineering.”