Partners + WiSci = More Girls in STEAM

Posted by Aldrinana Leung
August 19, 2016
An instructor from Intel guides a Women in Science (WiSci) participant during this year’s camp in Peru.

“WiSci was the best two weeks of my life!!!!” When teenagers post declarations like this on Facebook, it’s often hard to take them seriously, but the passion they have for their WiSci experience is indeed genuine, as showcased by the snapshots of their smiles and laughs during their two weeks in Peru.

Earlier this month, the 2016 Women in Science (WiSci) Girls STEAM camp wrapped up just outside Lima. The camp brought together nearly 100 teenage girls from Chile, Mexico, Peru, and the United States. Conducted completely in Spanish, the camp offered hands-on engagement in the various science, technology, engineering, arts and design, and math (STEAM) fields, in addition to mentoring, leadership development, and cross-cultural learning opportunities.

As one girl from Chile wrote on Huffington Post, “At the WiSci 2016 camp, nothing is random. Here everything is planned to allow us the best experience possible.” Set up as a public-private partnership, the WiSci camp was a product of inspired collaboration and invaluable contributions of partners, especially from the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, Google, and the Intel Corporation. As an APEC initiative, the camp truly demonstrated what is possible when the public and private sectors come together to address shared challenges related to increasing women’s economic participation.

Participants show off the websites they designed at the WiSci 2016 camp. [State Department photo]

Intel partnered with the State Department on the pilot WiSci camp in Rwanda in 2015 (see a video here), and returned in 2016 with a strong team of eight employees as instructors and mentors. Through the Intel Education Service Corps, Intel matched volunteers with relevant technical expertise to lead exciting activities to encourage the girls’ interest in technology and the maker movement. Intel provided curriculum materials, Arduino devices, and sensors, and sent the girls home with resources to continue their exploration of the maker movement including USB bracelets pre-loaded with maker activities and even a tablet computer!

Girl Up also returned for a second year, applying their expertise in mobilizing and empowering girls. Girl Up spread the word beyond the networks reached by the State Department, which resulted in more than 700 applications from girls eager to participate. Girl Up also selected and trained 10 camp counselors -- who served  as the campers’ “big sisters”  --  to facilitate sessions on leadership, public speaking, advocacy, and the Sustainable Development Goals throughout the camp. They also shared tips on being an advocate for girls’ empowerment and are working with campers to establish Girl Up clubs at their schools.

WiSci camp counselors lead discussions on the United Nations and Sustainable Development Goals. [State Department photo]

During the second week of camp, 14 Googlers arrived to lead the campers through the process of creating their own Android applications, increasing in difficulty over time, from programming a virtual cat to meow on command to a remote-controlled light. Google also demonstrated how technology can be used to increase accessibility for people with disabilities, prompting several groups to design solutions with assistive technologies as their final project.

Many other contributors rallied behind the common mission of empowering girls in STEAM by offering various support, before, during, and after the camp. CONCYTEC Perú helped to select the 40 Peruvian participants, provided guidance on opportunities to showcase STEAM around Lima, and served as a judge for the final projects. Freeport-McMoRan sent a team of ten female engineers from Cerro Verde, the largest mine in Peru, to lead the girls through interactive stations on minerals, chemistry, and sustainability. In addition to helping to underwrite some camp costs, Merck shared insight into health innovations and career opportunities in the biological sciences. Laboratoria introduced coding to the campers, while Fab Lab Perú demonstrated a 3D printer and Mapbox presented a workshop on OpenStreetMap. The American Society for Microbiology led one of the most popular sessions -- building a microscope using a smart phone, through which the campers were able to see and capture magnified images of blades of grass and saliva cells. The U.S. Mission to UNESCO sponsored a “Pitch Perfect” workshop in which Technovation advisors showed the girls how to create their own personal website, fine-tuning the girls’ personal stories. In addition, the campers were excited to learn more about the annual Technovation challenge to develop mobile apps, as well as other numerous activities, competitions, and STEM organizations to connect with once back home.

WiSci campers test the microscope they built using a smart phone. [State Department photo]

The camp also featured two excursions to Lima to experience STEAM in action and Peruvian culture. A favorite site visit was to the International Potato Center. The campers explored a seed bank and aeroponics greenhouse, while learning about nutrition and smart agriculture.

Throughout the camp, partners and trainers served as mentors. Over 350 mentor-camper interactions took place during nearly 50 “office hour” sessions. The campers clearly gained inspiration from their conversations with people working in the industry, citing many partners as role models in STEAM. The campers were also encouraged by meeting women in the STEAM fields, with over 80 percent of trainers being women, and by the end of camp, the overwhelming majority of campers said they had a very good understanding of career opportunities in STEAM.

Campers speak with trainers during office hours to learn about their careers. [State Department photo]

Besides the many positive outcomes of WiSci for the campers, the camp is doubly inspiring because it demonstrates the power of public-private partnership. The various contributions of partners -- from in-kind and financial to thought leadership and access to networks  --  leveraged the strengths of each organization and resulted in a camp that was far more comprehensive and impactful than any single stakeholder could have organized on their own. The experience also had an impact on the partners who were able to get to know these amazing girls and their dreams, struggles, and aspirations. The director of Fab Lab Peru noted “Many of the girls surprised themselves at what they were able to create. We really enjoyed seeing how creativity appeared in each of the girls like magic before our eyes.”

Thanks to the #WiSci2016 partners, the WiSci experience will live with the girls far beyond just the two weeks of the camp.

About the Author: Aldrinana Leung serves as a Global Partnerships Advisor in the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships (S/GP) at the U.S. Department of State.

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