Pratt Students Mentor Youngsters at Sally Ride Science Camp

By Jessica Manson

(Manson is a sophomore double majoring in Biomedical and Electrical Engineering)

“Science camp?” That is the question most of these middle-school girls would probably hear if they told their peers how they spent their summer vacation. However, this past summer, a new science camp tore down the common stereotypes of lab scientists or engineers and replaced them with new ideas about those who pursue science and engineering.

This summer, the Sally Ride Science Camp, held at Stanford University, promoted science and engineering to middle school girls in the form of an eventful, exciting summer camp. The Pratt School of Engineering was represented at this camp by two of its undergraduate women who worked as camp counselors. Junior Bevin Hearn and sophomore Jessica Manson worked as “Mentor Counselors,” leading a group of girls through the daily activities, creating afternoon workshops, and serving as role models for the campers.

The week-long sessions were combined with academic instruction, fun hands-on experiments, leadership and team-building activities and cool experiences. The camp was divided into three “majors” according to each girl’s interest. The “Build Your Dream House” major introduced the campers to the fields of structural engineering and architecture. The girls studied the history of architecture, structural analysis, and developed a blueprint of their dream house. “Adapt or Die” provided the campers with an understanding of bioengineering. The girls participated in hands-on experiments, such as dissecting a cow’s heart and reproducing sea urchins. The “Shoot for the Stars” major emphasized astronomy and space travel. Participants made scale models of the solar system, built rockets, and used lasers to understand the light of the stars.

When the girls were not working on their “majors,” they were developing leadership and team-building skills in afternoon workshops such as “Invent It!” where girls brainstormed solutions to problems they encounter everyday and developed new inventions to solve them. The campers then presented their inventions to the camp by acting out commercials. Other afternoon activities focused on developing public speaking, problem solving, leadership, and team-building skills. At the conclusion of the week, the girls were led on a star walk to learn about the constellations and develop independence.
The campers were provided with several unique opportunities, including riding a Segway, receiving advice from Meg Whitman, the CEO of E-bay, and meeting Sally Ride, the first female American astronaut in space.

As for her experience working at the camp, Pratt's Bevin Hearn said, “I enjoyed working with the girls and hope that they gained as much from the experience as I did. It was fantastic to see the girls talking to each other about science and realizing other people had similar interests.”

Jessica Manson recalls the opportunity as “an amazing chance to show younger girls that science is cool, motivate them to become strong leaders and encourage them to pursue their goals, whatever they may be.”

In addition to the Sally Ride Science Camp, Ride’s company, Imaginary Lines Inc., sponsors the Sally Ride Science Club and Festivals to further interest in math and science among middle-school girls. The Sally Ride Science Festivals are held throughout the United States, offering different seminars not only for the girls, but also for parents and teachers. A street fair at the festivals presents demonstrations and information from different science-related fields, as well as an opportunity to meet Ride and receive her autograph.

In September 2003, a Sally Ride Science Festival was held at North Carolina State University. This time, Duke’s section of the Society of Women Engineers attended the event with middle school girls from the Durham area. While the girls were in workshops learning about everything from forensic science to careers in aviation, the SWE members attended a workshop focusing on gender equality. Ride also gave a motivational and educational address to the entire festival.

Pratt junior Jean Foster “was impressed by Sally Ride's accomplishments and inspired by her dedication to introducing young girls to the world of science and engineering.”

Through the Sally Ride Science Camp and Festivals, science and engineering is being presented to young girls in a fun, innovative way. The hope is that these new ways of reaching out to girls will foster their desire to learn more about science and engineering during their everyday lives, as well as in years to come.

The Sally Ride Science Camp is operated by Galileo Educational Services on behalf of Ride. Galileo will soon be looking for staff for next year’s expanded program. For more information, visit www.sallyridecamps.com or email jobs@galileoed.com.