Editor’s note: Story info provided by the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
Arely Hernandez set down the car – which she and a group of students constructed from miscellaneous items like rubber bands, CDs, and a mousetrap – on the carpet of the Math-Science Building at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. The group of onlookers watched as she pulled the hammer back on the mousetrap then let go, watching as the car passed tape on the carpet marking previous cars’ distances.
As the onlookers burst into applause, Hernandez couldn’t help but smile.
She may only be in 6th grade, but organizers of the UAFS-Verizon STEM Camp for Girls held June 20-24 hope the camp will show her, along with the other 29 camp participants, that careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – aka, STEM – are not just for boys.
The weeklong camp, which was made possible through a $15,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation and additional funds from the School of Education and College of STEM at UAFS, showed middle and junior high students the aspects of STEM through hands-on experiments including constructing a building from balsa wood and testing its durability on an earthquake simulator, extracting oil to make biodiesel, and solving a murder mystery by analyzing DNA.
“It’s been wonderful to see how engaged they’ve been all week,” said Paula Abbott, assistant professor of chemistry and co-coordinator of the camp. “When they were working on their structures for the earthquake simulation, they were so focused that they didn’t even realize they had been working through their break. It’s been great to see how engrossed they’ve been and how much they’ve been enjoying the exercises.”
Additionally, campers had the opportunity to tour the university’s Sustainable Conservation House and the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine’s campus, as well as hearing from local business owners such as Carrot Dirt about the science of eating healthy and chemists from Peterson Chemical Technology about how foams are made. UAFS alumni who work in science fields also spoke to campers about their work.
The camp is part of a broader effort to bring diversity to STEM-related fields, a push that both the university’s College of STEM and Verizon have prioritized.
“We truly believe that giving students hands-on experiences will help foster their interest in STEM and hopefully lead them to pursue careers in STEM-related fields,” said Julie Smith, director of external affairs for Verizon. “Our goal is to help prepare students for success and inspire them to be the creators and innovators for the future.”
Dr. Jen Jamison, associate professor of chemistry and co-coordinator of the camp, hopes the camp inspires young females to pursue careers in STEM-related fields.
“Seeing so many girls have an interest in STEM at this early of an age is very remarkable,” Jamison said. “Many of these young ladies were fearless. They certainly faced challenges, particularly with building the mousetrap cars, but they persisted and succeeded. That’s been most rewarding and most reminiscent of my own journey with science: seeing them not give up, even when they are not initially successful.”