Campus & community, Technology & engineering

Girls' STEM camp connects with campus

By Kathleen Maclay


#FutureSTEMleaders and then some. (Photos by Self-eSTEM staff)

As 75 girls ages in grades 2 through 12 who attended an Oakland summer camp on Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) Exploration Camp head back to their regular classrooms this fall, plans are under way to strengthen new ties between the students and UC Berkeley this academic year.

“Research shows that by middle school and high school age, many girls have tuned out careers in STEM, so it is important to expose them to these academic opportunities at an early age,” said Adamaka Ajaelo, an Oakland native and founder of Self-eSTEM , a nonprofit that’s been sponsoring the camp since 2014.

“By bringing STEM to life for the young girls, it helps them to think about careers in that field,” added Ajaelo.

“We’re excited about this new partnership with Self-eSTEM ,” said Karen Trapenberg Frick, the new director of the UC Berkeley-based UC Transportation Center, who noted that the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley also will be part of the new arrangement.

The partnership, Trapenberg Frick said, aims to build connections between the Self-eSTEM and its girls, Berkeley students and campus faculty/researchers through:

  • Inviting the girls to campus workshops and lectures on STEM as well as city and regional planning topics
  • Discussing and planning for college
  • Touring campus facilities
  • Collaborating on grant applications to support the program

Girls in the SelfeSTEM camp visited the Exploratorium in San Francisco, NASA Ames in the South Bay and were treated to a science rap workshop with YouTube sensation Tom McFadden.

An assistant adjunct professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design and the assistant director of the UC Center on Economic Competitiveness in Transportation, Trapenberg Frick learned about the free summer camp that was held this year at West Oakland Middle School by the nonprofit Self-eSTEM organization after stumbling upon an architectural summer camp for youth at Wurster Hall.

The architecture camp was supported by UC Berkeley architecture alumnus Jeremiah Tolbert, a Self-eSTEM board member, who was planning to share his knowledge at the girls’ camp. They talked, and he and invited Frick to talk to the girls about her work on the camp’s Engineering Day.

“An example of small things leading to big things,” she said.

Trapenberg Frick attended the camp, recounting for the girls the arduous, controversial and colorful history of rebuilding of the Bay Bridge following the destructive Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, the focus of her book, Remaking the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge: A Case Study of Shadowboxing with Nature (2016).

After the talk, the girls built their own bridge models. At other times during camp they worked in a makerspace, toured the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View and participated in workshops on robotics and other scientific processes.

The Self-eSTEM girls clearly had fun building their own version of a Bay Area bridge.

“By building the confidence needed to master the hard and soft skills required of STEM leaders, there is no limit to what these young girls can accomplish,” said Shalonda Tillman Self-eSTEM’s chief operating officer and an Oakland elementary school teacher.