Four Davis junior high students — Rebecca Wittman, Sue Bin Park, Sithmi Jayasundara and Maya Parker — who participated in the UC Davis Tech Trek earlier this month say the program has broadened their knowledge of careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
“I’ve learned that despite there being a gender gap in the STEM fields, there are a lot of successful women who have made their way in all of these areas,” Rebecca said. “So it is very possible to achieve your goals of getting a job in these areas and that if you work hard, you can do a lot of things.”
Tech Trek is a project of American Association of University Women California that allows incoming eighth-grade girls to explore STEM careers through various activities, including hands-on classes and workshops.
“For whatever reason, women just don’t tend to stay in STEM fields,” co-director Susan Wheeler said. “So if (Tech Trekkers) can see women in the fields, if they have role models, if they have goals, and they know they’ve got that support, I think that helps.”
Sithmi added: “We really need more women in society to be in STEM careers. There is so much out there for us to do.”
This is the fourth year that Tech Trek has been held on the UCD campus, attracting Trekkers from 21 AAUW branches throughout Northern California. Participants are nominated by math and science teachers and undergo a selection process by their local AAUW branch.
The program costs about $950 for each girl from Davis, but parents pay only $50, thanks to AAUW sponsorship.
Wheeler, who used to serve on the selection committee of the AAUW Davis branch, stressed the importance of providing the opportunities of Tech Trek to girls most in need.
“It’s a great thing to be able to have this kind of experience that a lot of kids don’t get,” Maya said, adding that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Because the program is on a college campus, participants also gain perspective on college life. “For many of our campers, this helps them see that college is a reality,” Wheeler said.
Although the program is close to home, some Trekkers found the idea of staying on a college campus intimidating.
“I was nervous at first to be staying away from home for a week,” Sue said, “but I wasn’t going to let anything like this pass up.”
The Tech Trekkers lived in the Segundo residence halls and ate meals at the dining commons. Volunteer dorm moms and junior coordinators guided the girls through each day’s activities.
All four Davis Tech Trekkers enjoyed the core classes the most, in which they were able to dissect animal organs and build solar-powered cell phone chargers. The classes were taught by instructors from local high schools. Each Trekker could choose one core class subject — math and English, genetics, anatomy and physiology, engineering or robotics.
Female members of the robotics team at Davis High School — Megan Yamoah, Jasmine Zhou, Nikki Bayar, Divya Kunda, Elise Wong, Shreya Sudasharna, Kelly Ostrom and Akshaya Jannadharao — taught workshops in place of core classes on one of the camp days. Yamoah, a former Tech Trekker and junior counselor, was the main organizer of the curriculum, which included programming, electricity, mechanics and leadership.
Trekkers visited the Mondavi Center to study light, the Bohart Museum to learn about entomology and the veterinary hospital to explore animal treatment procedures. They also participated in workshops and heard guest speakers on topics for personal development such as positive body image, how to write thank-you notes and how to get financial aid from college.
Sithmi called the Tech Trek “a vacation in your own town,” and said she definitely wants to pursue a STEM career. “I’m really happy that I’m here,” she said.
For Rebecca, the program was an eye-opening experience that helped her see past stereotypes of women in STEM fields and realize the diversity of possible careers.
“Before this, I think I saw a relatively narrow view of the jobs in STEM fields,” she said. “I got to see how much you can do with a degree in any of those fields.”
All four Davis Tech Trekkers expressed interest in STEM careers. Although Tech Trek is open only to girls entering eighth grade, many return as junior counselors, speakers and dorm moms, and even more go on to study and work in STEM fields.