By Shawn Chitnis
GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4) – Girls on their summer break spent a week at the Colorado School of Mines for the first ever GE Girls Camp in Colorado. The camp helps introduce the girls to STEM subjects and keep them interested in those fields as possible careers.
“I thought it would like open my eyes and kind of introduce me into the STEM world,” said Catalina Dyson, 12, one of the students in the camp. “I’ve always been interested in STEM, but I just want to have the hands on experience as well.”
The camp started on Monday with 40 girls in seventh and eighth grades spending most of the week at the college and making a field trip to a General Electric site in Longmont. The program started in 2011 by the company and has hosted 20 different locations across the country and abroad before employees and staff at the school decided to bring the program to Colorado.
“The numbers of women in STEM aren’t where we would like them to be,” said Jenifer Shafer, an associate professor at the college. She helped to bring the camp to campus along with her aunt.
Shafer says her path into a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) career was never undermined by gender because she had relatives in the industry. Ellen Johnson is a bioprocess solutions architect for GE Healthcare. She approached Shafer, her niece, to bring the camp to Colorado last year.
“Girls do lose interest in STEM subjects around this age, seventh or eighth grade,” said Johnson.
A variety of factors can contribute to the low number of girls and eventually women in these fields. Starting around middle school, girls can lack role models to guide them. They also may not have access to the necessary resources or face pressure from peers to stay aware from those subjects.
“I think it’s important because girls sometimes think they can’t do science,” said Dyson. “I would say they’re stupid because girls can do whatever they want to do.”
The girls explored different topics each day including building rockets, isolating their own DNA, and creating metal keepsakes in a foundry. Students like Dyson say they have several interests in STEM careers including biology, genetics, and computer science. She hopes to help women that cannot get pregnant by finding the science to help them have children. She also wants to create a cleaner environment.
“Diverse teams actually have a tendency to make the best solutions,” Shafer said about improving the number of women in these fields.
Most engineering schools report only 20 percent of students are women, according to Shafer. She says the numbers are better at the School of Mines but she still wants to see that come up to 50-50 for both genders at all colleges.
GE Girls is part of the company’s larger initiative, “Balance The Equation,” which hopes to see 20,000 women in technical roles by the year 2020. It is a goal these young girls share because they already appreciate the need for more of their own in STEM related positions.
“If we have more women in the workforce, we can make better technology for the future,” said Dyson. “If you have something to struggle with, you can keep just keep working at it, and you can achieve it in the future.”