University Camp Engages Girl Scouts in STEM Programs

Engineering student Brandon Smith helps camper Leticia Bonds with her model.

Engineering student Brandon Smith helps camper Leticia Bonds with her model.

Thirty-six Girl Scouts in grades 7 to 9 are on the East Falls Campus for a two-week STEM summer camp, and the timing couldn’t be better. Just last month, the Girl Scouts announced 23 new badges, including those in science, technology, engineering and math.

“The objective of the camp is not only to attract students toward STEM programs but also to motivate, engage and mentor them to take the math, science and English courses during their secondary education that will prepare them for college,” said Fernando Tovia, associate professor of engineering at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University), who directs the Aug. 7-18 camp.

Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, according to a study from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“Female leadership in these fields is lagging, and skills associated with STEM will support girls’ readiness to assume leadership and productive roles in other professions as well,” Tovia said.

The University has run the summer camp in collaboration with the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania (GSEP) since 2012 and the U.S. Navy since 2013.

This summer, the campers will use robotic Lego Mindstorm systems to design, build and program a subsystem required to operate a Navy ship. Working in teams, they will create a model water purification system, crane and alternative energy system, using a 3D printer to design some of the necessary components.

The camp also will feature two speakers from the Navy, a field trip to the Battleship New Jersey and a debate on alternative energy sources, for which campers will work in teams to research, give a presentation and debate the pros and cons of their energy source with the other teams.

Sydney Bell is attending the camp for the third straight year.

Sydney Bell is attending the camp for the third straight year.

“The program engages girls in daily leadership and team-building activities and lets them experience hands-on STEM projects that challenge their creativity in a friendly, free-thinking, discovering and learning environment,” Tovia said.

Hossein Rostami, professor of mathematics, and undergraduate engineering students Mitchell Maurer, Savannah Webb and Brandon Smith also are participating in the camp. They will help the campers with their robotic systems and provide research guidance for project posters and the energy source debate. As he helped camper Leticia Bonds with her model, Smith noted that working in the camp also will help strengthen his leadership and teaching skills.

Sydney Bell, who’s attending the camp for the third straight year, said she may pursue a career in engineering and liked working with her teammates to develop the crane. Camper Kayla McDonald’s two older brothers are engineers, which inspired her to attend. “Building things is fun,” she said with a smile.

“This unique experience is one that the girls wouldn’t otherwise have had without the support of Jefferson and the Navy,” said Liz D’Angel, GSEP assistant director of strategic communications. “The partnership is one important way that GSEP is introducing more girls to the world of STEM, building their abilities, curiosity and confidence along the way.”

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