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WPI’s Camp Reach Teaches Girls About STEM Jobs, Mars Exploration

Thursday, July 31, 2014

 

Seventh-grade girls at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Camp Reach were recently given the opportunity to meet WPI President Laurie Leshin and some of the other women that continue to play important roles in NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover spending two years on Mars.

Leshin, a geochemist and space scientist, has been involved in the Curiosity project since its inception more than a decade ago; she remains a team member today. Prior to serving as WPI's 16th president, Leshin spent six years as a senior leader at NASA.

"As a member of the Mars Curiosity team, I have worked with amazing women with critically important scientific and technological expertise – everything from soil science to software engineering to chemistry and beyond,” said Leshin. “My hope is that by meeting some of the women of Curiosity, these girls will leave Camp Reach knowing the sky's the limit."

Camp Reach, now in its 18th year, is one of several WPI K-12 programs aimed at science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for girls. Each year, 30 girls from throughout Massachusetts participate in the two-week residential program and partake in hands-on workshops, a design project for a community organization, a visit to an engineering workplace, along with recreational activities. They return for follow-up programs during the academic year.

A Beneficial Program

In 2011, Camp Reach won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring because it has been proven successful: according to a 2009 study, almost 18 percent of Camp Reach participants intended to pursue an engineering major in college, as compared with 2.9 percent of a control group and a national average of 2.5 percent for women.

A follow-up study showed that the Camp Reach group had more positive perceptions of engineers than the control group, and the access to role models and mentors was found to be one of the most influential program elements. Regardless of education or career plans, participants cited Camp Reach as providing a sense of empowerment and self-esteem. As high school students they showed high self-rating of computer skills, math abilities, and intellectual self-confidence, compared to national averages for women. They also showed high enrollments in calculus, physics, and STEM activities as high school students.

"Statistics show that the middle school years are critical for keeping girls interested in science, and Camp Reach does an outstanding job at fostering passion for STEM,” said Leshin. “I'm so pleased that WPI helps ensure that these girls receive the mentoring that we know is critical for keeping them in the pipeline.” 

 

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