University camp centers on getting young women in STEM fields

Female University educators see the potential in involving more girls in science. The University of Illinois Extension and 4-H spearheaded an overnight science camp, STEM Education Outreach, Tuesday for fifth and sixth grade girls focused on involving more women in STEM fields.

“Even though girls excel in science, they still aren’t going into the fields. This camp will make science more applicable towards girls and get them inspired as they meet role models in the field,” said Becky Buckrop, marketing and local fund development coordinator for the University of Illinois Extension.

Buckrop said she thinks that attracting girls to science at an early age will encourage them to take more science classes later on in their schooling.

The camp, held at the Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, Ill., featured three female speakers involved in different fields of science. Dr. Anita Pinc led a session on obstetrics and gynecology, Stephanie Fuhr of Augustana College informed campers about soap making and beekeeping and Dr. Lia Nightingale of Palmer College of Chiropractic led a program on the chemistry behind food science.

Diane Baker, a University 4-H extension educator, said the Science Siesta “is really about sparking interest in girls and exposing them to all the possibilities out there so they will later become involved in STEM programs.”

Her oldest daughter has previously attended the camp. Baker said she also noticed that many of the girls who attended the camp return later as teen volunteers.

The University has its own I-STEM Education Initiative that helps foster accessible and effective science, technology, engineering and mathematics teaching as well as learning.

Many STEM fields, especially engineering, have a large gender discrepancy, said Betsy Innes, web master for I-STEM.

Innes said the National Science Foundation — in many of their grants to the University — encourages under-represented groups to get involved in science.

Women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, although they fill almost half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, according to statistical findings by the Department of Commerce published in 2011. Women in STEM fields earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs, resulting in a smaller gender wage gap in STEM fields.

Buckrop and Baker agree that camps such as the Science Siesta encourage girls to not shy away from these male-dominated occupations.

“Many of the University projects are seeking to expose girls to other science disciplines so that they can see A) yes, science is fun and B) they can do it,” Buckrop said.

Sophia can be reached at [email protected]