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Postdoctoral Student Creates STEM Program For Girls

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Charlotte Germain-Aubrey discovered her passion for biology in Madagascar while studying trees that provided food and shelter to lemurs.

The postdoctoral student was 20 when she decided to become a scientist, but she knew it would have happened sooner had she been exposed to the sciences at a younger age.

Now she wants to help introduce other girls to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields by creating a weeklong camp for fifth- and sixth-grade girls.

“Science is so broad and has so many applications,” she said.

Germain-Aubrey’s involvement in the University of Florida’s Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) program helped her create the WiSE Girlz Camp. She reached out to various UF science departments. Within a week, she had multiple faculty members on board.

The next step was figuring out a way  to fund the camp and keep it affordable for parents. She realized how expensive STEM camps were after looking into them for her son. The cost of STEM camps in Alachua County ranged from $200 to $300, she said.

Graduate student Tahlia DeMaio helps girls in WiSE Girlz summer camp build a telescope.
Graduate student Tahlia DeMaio helps girls in WiSE Girlz camp build a telescope. Photo provided by Charlotte Germain-Aubrey

Teachers and guest speakers volunteered their time, so Germain-Aubrey was able to keep the cost of the camp at $50 per student. The only cost was for daily meals, and scholarships were available to those who couldn’t afford the fee.

Eleven girls attended the camp in March, including 13-year-old Charlotte Trabbic. Each day was dedicated to a different science field, such as biology, astronomy, geology,  engineering, computer science or chemistry, which turned out to be Trabbic’s favorite.

She said she enjoyed how hands on chemistry was, like when she created slime by mixing chemicals and learned how certain chemicals could change the color of fire from pink to green.

Trabbic’s main fascination with science is its ability to help others.

“It’s so cool cause you can help someone by doing something you love,” she said.

She wants to be an anesthesiologist when she grows up, but Trabbic said she is still exploring other health and science fields.

Germain-Aubrey said that at the end of the day, many girls wanted to become engineers and computer scientists.

“I think exposing them to many disciplines and people is really key,” she said.

Stephanie Zick, WiSE president and doctoral student, said the camp focuses on girls in middle school because that is when girls tend to drop out of the sciences.

Zick said she noticed a gender gap when she realized most of her graduate professors were male.

“Part of the reason of why I became involved in WiSE is because I had a privileged upbringing because I was always encouraged, and I want to continue that across a wider demographic,” Zick said.

According to the United States Census Bureau, women’s representation in STEM fields has increased since the 1970s. But women are still underrepresented. Women made up 26 percent of the workforce in STEM fields in 2011 and men made up 74 percent.

Other organizations like The National Girls Collaborative Project work to encourage young girls to pursue STEM careers and connect them with STEM programs where they live. Brenda Britch, senior research scientist at NGCP, said it’s important for everyone to have a strong STEM foundation and for girls to see that STEM is not just for boys.

Britsch said role models also help inspire girls. Programs like WiSE, which involve women who are studying STEM working with younger girls, can help the girls connect with a STEM field they are interested in, according to Britsch.

“College students are key because they’re not that much older than girls and can really impact those girls,” Britsch said.

She said getting students interested in topics they personally care about is crucial to sparking interest in STEM.

“Let students choose what they’re going to do and tackle issues they care about,” she said.  “It’s not only more interesting, but it helps connect girls to science.”

About Ariana Figueroa

Ariana is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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