Local elementary students participating in EWU’s inaugural Girls+ STEM camp grew colonies of microbes and calculated bungee jumps for Barbie dolls, among a host of other activities designed to get students, especially girls, excited about science, technology, engineering and math.
The camp, held Aug. 8-9 in the Interdisciplinary Science Center, was packed full of creative experiments for students in grades 3-5.
“I think that it was a great experience. If I could go again next year I would go, but I can’t because I’ll be a sixth-grader,” says Grace Lynch, a student at Betz Elementary School.
Organizer Melissa Graham, an EWU senior lecturer and CSTEM faculty fellow for diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, said the camp was made possible by a $2,000 Diversity Initiative Grant from the EWU Board of Trustees and seven faculty members who volunteered their time.
Students paid just $20 each for two full days of fun-filled learning facilitated by university professors with advanced degrees. Although the camp was designed to engage females, an underrepresented demographic in STEM professions, it was open to all students in those grades. (Visit our online photo gallery.)
The camp offered something for everyone. Lynch says she particularly enjoyed a session on the chemistry of making lip balm: “It was fun because we had to get the ingredients at just the right number.” Plus, she added, the lip balm “smells good and gets used a lot.”
Activities at Girls+ STEM also included creating a “wetland in a bottle” while learning the role ecosystems play in filtering toxins from the water, controlling flooding and creating habitat for fish and wildlife. Other exercises involved using a compass to solve a scavenger hunt, creating chemical reactions to make tie-dye shirts and etch jewelry, building a circuit board to power a light and swabbing various surfaces to collect and identify interesting-looking microbes under a microscope.
“One kid said, ‘I’m going to have so many microbes because I swabbed the bottom of my foot and I walk around barefoot a lot, Graham says.”
Her own daughter, Maci, who is entering 4th grade at Cheney’s Snowdon Elementary School, is hoping to come back to camp next year. Maci enjoyed the Barbie bungee jumping experiment and the building and launching of paper rockets, saying the entire experience “was pretty fun.”
Graham started recruiting faculty members to help with Girls+ STEM back in February. Planning sessions began in March. In May, Graham visited elementary schools in the Cheney district to distribute promotional fliers.
The experience for participating kids was a great “first foot in the door to Eastern,” says Graham, who considers year one a success. “What I wanted them to take away is that they can be scientists and that there are lots of different ways to be scientists.”
Faculty volunteers put a great deal of effort into making this first STEM camp interesting and educational, Graham says. “We were exhausted by the end, but we all had so much fun.”