University of Rochester

No S'mores Here: Two Day Camps Boost Girls' Science Savvy

July 15, 1998

While thousands of area youngsters pack their bags for summer camps filled with lazy days of swimming, hiking, and campfires, 50 local girls are having a distinctly more collegiate experience: Two unusual day camps at the University of Rochester are boosting their science know-how and kindling their interest in careers as scientists, engineers, or mathematicians. These 8- to 15-year-olds are getting a feel for technology and research while pumping up their self-confidence for the return to science classrooms in the fall.

Some of the highlights of the Math, Science, and Computer Camp for Girls and the PreCollege Experience in Physics for Young Women (PREP), both of which run through July 31, include:

The "Queen of the Hill" competition on July 20, where small, self-propelled cars fashioned from such everyday paraphernalia as cans, bottles, and mousetraps will zip up a small hill.

A July 20 demonstration of exotic animals, including a 13-foot python named Clyde.

Creation of moon craters with a University astronomy student on July 24 by tossing rocks from various heights into a pan of flour and powdered chocolate milk.

A "Temple of Spoon" contest on July 27, featuring the creation of a "Rube Goldberg machine" that uses the principles of classical physics to lift a spoon imprisoning an imaginary Indiana Jones.

The camps' grand finale, a science fair to be held on July 30, will feature older girls using a range of catchy experiments -- such as strength tests on tall towers of plastic straws, an egg smash competition, and hair that stands straight up in the air, thanks to an electrical charge -- to demonstrate to their younger cohorts the fundamentals of physics.

"Society-wide, there is much lower participation by women than men in the physical sciences and engineering," says PREP director Priscilla Auchincloss, research associate and senior lecturer in physics and director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University. "Programs like PREP provide young women with exposure to physics, building their confidence before they encounter it in high school."

In Auchincloss' PREP program, which runs July 6-31, these measures include hands-on experiments in such advanced areas as harmonic motion, momentum and energy, optics, superconductivity, and the polarization of light. PREP's 24 participants, all 9th, 10th, and 11th graders, will get the chance to meet with University women whose work delves into particle physics, biomedical engineering, and the neuroscience underlying bird calls. At the University's Medical Center, they'll learn about forensics and how to prepare for medical school, while at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics they'll see a football field-size laser, the world's largest.

"We're teaching them some of the basics they'll learn in high school and college science classes, and hoping to encourage their interest in science by doing fun projects and labs," says Julie Fry, a senior studying chemistry at the University and one of two undergraduates leading this summer's PREP program. "We hope that this introduction to career scientists and science students will give the girls insights into the lifestyle and choices associated with being a woman in science."

Since PREP's first session in 1994, most of its college-bound alumnae have gone on to study biology, physics, chemistry, earth and environmental sciences, or engineering.

The Math, Science, and Computer Camp, intended for girls ages 8-12, typically draws a quarter of its participants back for a second or even a third year. Each day, girls in the two-week program hear from different guest scientists, visit labs on campus, and use computers. They also explore scientific and mathematical concepts through activities unlike those found in most schools -- engineering bridges out of toothpicks, folding paper with mathematical precision into origami sculptures, or probing the number systems of other cultures, for instance.

"At camp we promote interest in the sciences by offering the girls opportunities to do activities with real math and science, to see scientists in their laboratories, to meet role models, and to learn about notable women scientists and mathematicians," says camp director Edith Kort, a doctoral student at the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development and a former professor of math and computer science at Nazareth College. "It's important for girls to work with computers and technology at a young age."

Kort adds that parents rave about the program, now in its eighth year: "Every day my daughter came home wanting to be a different kind of scientist," one said.

This summer's two sessions of the Math, Science, and Computer Camp run July 6-17 and July 20-31.

The Math, Science, and Computer Camp is sponsored by the Warner School's Institute for Urban Schools and Education. PREP is funded by the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy and the U.S. Compact Muon Solenoid collaboration, a high-energy physics program funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Participants in this summer's Math, Science, and Computer Camp hail from Brighton, Brockport, Canandaigua, Fairport, Henrietta, Honeoye Falls, LeRoy, Penfield, Pittsford, Rochester, Rush, Victor, and Webster. A list of PREP participants with their hometowns and schools follows.

Participants in the 1998 PreCollege Experience in Physics for Young Women

Brighton: Brandy Grenier, grade 10, Brighton High School; Jeyvarna Karthikeyan, grade 9, Brighton High School; Molly Yunker, grade 10, Brighton High School

East Rochester: Ceara O'Connel, grade 10, East Rochester High School

Fairport: Julia Meller, grade 9, Minerva Deland School

Greece: Carla DeLucia, grade 9, Greece Athena High School; Heidi Fronheiser, grade 9, Greece Athena High School; Joy Lee, grade 10, Greece Athena High School; Tracy Newman, grade 9, Greece Athena High School

Henrietta: Tooba Fayyaz, grade 9, Rush-Henrietta Senior High School; Pamela Kingsbury, grade 10, Rush-Henrietta Senior High School

Penfield: Meghan Bruce, grade 9, Penfield High School; Laura Darnieder, grade 9, Penfield High School; Lindsey Grant, grade 9, Penfield High School; Sarah Leever, grade 11, Penfield High School

Pittsford: Lindsey Greene, grade 10, Pittsford Sutherland High School; Tasha Thomas, grade 9, Pittsford Sutherland High School

Rochester: Lila Selim, grade 9, School Without Walls; Magalie Volcy, grade 10, Wilson Magnet High School

Spencerport: Alice Tran, grade 10, Spencerport High School

Victor: Tamara Freida, grade 9, Victor High School

Webster: Kristina Rozanski, grade 10, Bishop Kearney High School; Teran Tedal, grade 10, Our Lady of Mercy High School