When a STEM Summer Camp Changes Your Life.

During the summer, schools are usually pretty quiet places. Empty halls and lockers, chairs stacked into towers in the corners of classrooms, and only the sound of a custodian waxing the floors can be heard. But this week is different at Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro. This week, three classrooms are abuzz with laughter and learning as girls in our Chicas program begin our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) summer scholastic camp.

Every day is jam-packed with interactive activities and experiments. Today, the girls are making homemade ice cream, designing parachutes and learning about brain anatomy.

Learning how to make parachutes.

Chicas, our Youth Development Program for Latina girls in grades 3 through 12, has been putting on a summer STEM camp for the past eight years. “The camp was born out of the need of the families who wanted their daughters to be active during the summer, but didn’t have the ability to pay for most summer camps,” says Leticia, our Chicas Program Manager. “The STEM camp helps Latina girls gain awareness of, and increased interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics by providing high-quality, culturally-responsive STEM programming.” In fact, 42% of graduated Chicas students in 2017 are now pursuing a STEM field career.

Leticia, our Chicas Program Manager, and Chicas hang out during lunch break at the STEM camp.

It truly takes a village to make these vital summer camps possible for our Chicas. First Tech Federal Credit Union is one of those partners who helps make our STEM camp possible.

“First Tech Federal Credit Union is proud to support the Chicas STEM Camp,” said Rachel Miller, Community Engagement Specialist with First Tech. “STEM Camp is an opportunity for Chicas program participants to innovate, learn and lead — fueling their future and the future of our community. Adelante is creating an amazing way to develop a passion for science, technology, engineering and math, and to open doors to new possibilities!”

Our partners at First Tech visiting the STEM camp.

Roxy, a Chica currently heading into 10th grade, has been attending our STEM camp since she was in the 3rd grade. “My friend wanted to go to the camp, and she didn’t want to go alone so I went with her, so I didn’t really know much about it. Once the camps started, I saw other girls just like me. In the school I used to go to at that time, there weren’t really a lot of brown girls” said Roxy.

“At that time, I didn’t speak English that well. My first language is Spanish. And so when I entered Chicas, they knew the language that I knew, so I could communicate with them, so it made me feel at home.”

Roxy, a Chicas participant.

Like many of the girls in our Chicas program, school wasn’t easy for Roxy because of the language barrier. “Most of the time teachers didn’t really understand what I was saying, so they would just ignore me. It happened a lot,” said Roxy. “I grew up basically being in the library the whole time, reading and reading and reading, trying to catch up to people in my grade. Growing up I would carry a dictionary with me that translated Spanish into English. I’d have it right next to my book while everyone was reading along and I was looking for the rest of the words.”

Roxy struggled with keeping her grades up, and tests were always a challenge for her. “Honestly, before I started Chicas I was definitely guessing on all of my tests,” she said. “Growing up it was very difficult. My parents always worked from before the sun is up all the way until the sun is down. And for me, I never wanted them to know that I struggled in school, so I always pretended that I knew English — that I knew everything that I was doing. But in reality I was struggling. I never wanted them to think that all of their efforts weren’t enough. I didn’t want them to feel bad about the things they couldn’t help me with.”

Since a young age, Roxy knew she wanted to graduate high school and go to college — something her parents didn’t get the chance to do. Although school wasn’t easy for her, she never gave up, and she says Chicas was always there for her. “It’s really hard to envision my life without the program. It’s just been there — it’s always been a constant for me growing up, and that’s what I like about it.”

“Honestly, the STEM camps kind of guided me through thinking about different careers in STEM fields, especially since growing up I never really saw representation of myself reflected in the people who had white-collared jobs. So it was kind of ‘I don’t really see myself in their position. I can’t relate to them’. When we started the STEM camps, I saw there were Latina women there and they were doctors, they were dentists, they were scientists. They were representing something that is not seen in our community, and it helped me kind of envision that I could be that person too,” said Roxy, “and I just fell head over heels for it. So now I’m really into health sciences and I’d really like to be a doctor.”

Leticia explains,“We focus on STEM because Latina women are severely under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In the U.S., only 12% of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees are awarded to minority women. Only 3% of science and engineering masters — and fewer than 1% of PhD’s — are awarded to minority women (National Science Foundation 2011)”.

Roxy’s robot that she coded at a TAG STEM camp.

Since getting involved with Chicas, Roxy’s grades have vastly improved, and she’s now part of the TAG — talented and gifted — program at her school.

She says she hopes that current and future Chicas learn something about themselves every time they walk into a session. “I hope that they understand that they aren’t alone, because that’s been a great problem.”

Special thank you to First Tech, and everyone else who supports Chicas, for helping us make our STEM camp possible every summer.

Learn more about our Chicas program here.