Imagination Is Your Only Constraint

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WiSci campers collaborate on building a Galileo-powered car.
WiSci participants collaborate on building a Galileo-powered car during the WiSci STEAM Camp at the Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology in Rwanda, on August 4, 2015.

Imagination Is Your Only Constraint

I often speak about the power of public-private partnerships and frequently tout one of the Department of State’s cornerstone programs as a prime example: WiSci. The WiSci, or Women in Science, program is a Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Design, and Mathematics (STEAM) camp for girls ages 15 to 18.

This year, 100 girls from across six sub-Saharan African countries- Liberia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia- and the U.S. will travel to Malawi to build their skills and confidence in STEAM, inspiring them to pursue careers in these fields and overcome gender disparities often found in science, technology and engineering careers. Dynamic private sector partners, such as Intel Corporation and Google will offer these talented girls hands-on experience through various interactive trainings from July 30 to August 14.

 

Opportunities to increase campers’ STEM skills include classroom training in coding and robotics.

I could describe to you the value I see in WiSci, but I’ve discovered that the campers themselves are the best spokeswomen for the program and the best examples of its impact. One participant from the United States for this year’s camp wrote in her application, “Technology has the ability to open previously closed doors and provide women and girls with opportunities that have not been available to them in the past.”

Success stories abound for alumni of the programs due in part to the new skills, perspectives, and networks gained at camp. After attending WiSci 2015 in Rwanda, one participant, Redeat Gebeyehu from Ethiopia, represented girls in STEAM at the UNESCO Youth Forum in Paris, before enrolling as an engineering student at Stanford University. Her peers have gone on to similar success, including Javiera Hernandez Morales of Chile, who attended WiSci 2016 in Peru. Javiera won a full scholarship to study astronomy at the University of Santiago, Chile. She later went on to win one silver and two bronze medals in a math competition and started teaching math classes to middle school girls.

 

WiSci 2016 campers discuss a group project and form lifetime friendships in the process.

Other WiSci campers highlight the importance of forming community with like-minded scholars. One girl notes that she particularly wants “to be inspired by girls with similar ambitions and interests in STEAM, as this is a community I’ve had trouble finding.” Throughout the camp, the campers will meet with inspiring mentors and form valuable networks with their peers.

Under the leadership of the UN Foundation’s Girl Up Campaign counselors, this year’s WiSci participants can expect to gain the confidence and skills necessary to lead and spearhead change in their communities. Similarly, World Learning will train the girls on project planning and business pitch delivery. As one participant from Rwanda reminds us, STEAM “does not categorize us according to gender identities,” but by one’s contributions to the field.

 

A WiSci 2016 camper proudly presents her creation.

In her application, one camper perfectly summarized a fundamental belief that underlies why the U.S. Department of State and our partners are committed to the WiSci program. She writes, “You can be creative and combine different currently existing aspects of technology to create a completely new solution: imagination is your only constraint.”

The Department of State and our incredible partners believe in creatively combining our different contributions to build a comprehensive STEAM opportunity for girls. By collaborating with diverse organizations, each with its own unique set of skills and expertise, WiSci showcases the power of building bridges across many divides to increase impact.

The support of partners like the American Society for Microbiology, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and NASA allows the WiSci girls — potentially future doctors or researchers or even astronauts — to explore the origins of crop infections and the utility of satellite mapping, along with other lessons that show them the direct impact STEAM has on their everyday lives. The involvement of Intel Corporation and Google instills knowledge of coding and robotics to the campers, many of whom may discover a passion for engineering at the camp.

 

A representative from WiSci partner Intel mentors a WiSci 2016 camper.

As we prepare to send off the talented 100 young women participating in this year’s WiSci 2017 camp, I hope they’ll keep their fellow campers’ words in mind: “Imagination is your only constraint.” I cannot wait to see the incredible innovations our superstar campers will produce.

 

About the Author: Thomas Debass serves as the Acting Special Representative for Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State. 

Editor's Note: This entry was originally published on Medium.com.