Kate Ballantine, assistant professor in environmental studies at Mount Holyoke College, has a favorite memory from her years running a summer STEM program for girls.
“My students were walking past the tennis camp to a field. We’re carrying all our equipment – all the science-y stuff. One of the tennis campers yells, ‘What are you guys doing?’
“One of my students said, ‘We’re scientists.’ She was just radiating with this sense of ‘this is who I am now.’”
Ballantine’s Restoration Ecology Summer Scholars Program gives high school students a chance to do hands-on research in environmental restoration. Summer programs like hers are a great way for high school girls to dig into STEM fields, she says.
“They don’t seem to anticipate how much fun it is,” she says. “They’re surprised when they realize that there’s something really special when a group of all young women get together to do science. The atmosphere is unique. They get a very free-spirited learning mindset, and they also quickly form deep bonds with each other.
“I don’t want to say all high schools have this environment where the girls aren’t getting to speak up. But that can happen, and there are a lot of dynamics that people don’t even realize are taking place that they’re free of in the all-girls learning environment.”
The comments she gets on evaluations are proof to Ballantine that high school girls who are interested in STEM fields need more support.
“We get a lot of comments like ‘I never thought I could be a scientist, but now I realize that I can and that I have a contribution to make.’ We need to encourage that feeling.”
Statistics from Microsoft bear out the concept that more women could be entering STEM fields. Only 15 percent of engineers are women and onlyl 11 percent of physicists and astronomers are women. Only 6.7 percent of women graduate with STEM degrees. And only 0.4 percent of teenage girls plan to major in computer science.
“Young women have infinite career opportunities, and I believe this experience will help participants plan for their future,” says Stephanie Crowe, director of recruitment for Montana Tech, which has a summer program for girls. “Additionally, they will leave camp with a network of new friends interested in STEM and professional women working in STEM fields to help them on their journey.”
Here are just a few all-girls summer STEM programs for high school students. Some of the programs have partial scholarships. There are also all-girls programs for middle-school students. For more ideas, go to www.teenlife.com.
- Restoration Ecology Summer Scholars Program at Mount Holyoke, South Hadley, Mass., is a one-week program open to girls who have just completed Grades 9, 10 or 11 and are looking for meaningful ways to engage with the environment. Girls work in small groups to design plans for a wetlands restoration. Typical hands-on tasks include monitoring water quality through chemical and macroinvertebrate sampling, analyzing soil and using field guides and collection techniques to create an herbarium that represents vegetation in an ecosystem.
- MINES: Making Innovations in Engineering & Science, held at Montana Tech in Butte, Mont., is a one-week program open to girls who have just completed Grades 10 or 11 and are interested in science and math. MINES uses hands-on experiments, field trips and lab-based activities to show what it’s like to work in science, technology, engineering and math careers. Much of the program takes place outdoors, with visits to caverns, streams, mountains and geysers. Past projects included launching a rocket, exploring the ecology and geology of Yellowstone National Park and mapping the spread of a disease.
- Explore Engineering for High School Girls at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, Va., is a one-week program open to girls who have just completed Grades 9, 10 or 11 and are interested in engineering. Working in teams with engineering faculty and undergraduate engineering students, high-schoolers work on creating and designing projects, from the first brainstorming session to testing and revising prototypes. Past students have designed and built computer-controlled “smart” wearables, automated musical devices, sustainable building materials and a pet bowl that automatically refills.
- The Forensic Science Camp at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. is a one-week program for girls who have just completed Grades 7, 8, 9, 10 or 11 and are interested in forensic science. Students arrive at a staged crime scene and must gather and analyze evidence to find a suspect. Using biology, chemistry, mathematics and deductive reasoning, campers study fingerprints, footprints, fiber and hair samples and other evidence. The week includes a visit to a crime lab. (Saint Mary’s also has a one-week robotics camp.)
- Alexa Café holds one-week programs on campuses in 10 states for girls ages 10 to 15 who are interested in building their tech skills. Projects might include coding an app for charity, designing a video game, engineering wearable electronics or discovering the secrets of cyber security.
- NYU GSTEM is an intensive, six-week summer internship and study program in New York City for girls with a high-aptitude for STEM topics. Students live at home but attend seminars and work in internships throughout the NYC area. Participants work along with adult researchers and present a paper to their peers at the end of the program.
- The Smith Summer Science and Engineering Program (SSEP) is a four-week program at Smith College in Northhampton, Mass., for young women with high interest in medicine, engineering or science. High school students work on research with Smith faculty and live on campus.
- The MIT Women's Technology Program (WTP) is a four-week summer academic and residential experience for rising high school seniors. They explore engineering through hands-on classes, labs and team-based projects and can study electrical engineering and computer science or mechanical engineering. The program is for girls who have excelled in math but have little or no experience in computer science or engineering.