When Charlene Flores’ six- year-old daughter told her that she met someone famous during summer camp, Flores was thrilled to hear that the “celebrity” was a female scientist.
“It just makes my heart sing,” Flores said in a video for Project Scientist, the camp her daughter attended.
This summer, USC is hosting Project Scientist, a STEM program for young girls founded by USC alumna Sandy Marshall. In the past, Project Scientist has worked with universities such as CalTech to create a rigorous scientific curriculum for the camp. USC has now teamed up with Project Scientist to help develop the curriculum for each session.
The camp is broken up into six one-week segments that each cover a different topic. Themes for each section range from space exploration to civil engineering, with activities designed to focus on the topic in fun and interactive ways.
“I started Project Scientist for my daughters and girls all over the country with an aptitude, talent and passion for science, technology, engineering and math,” Marshall said in a Project For Science video. “I couldn’t find any science programs that were just for girls and serving girls as young as four years old, even though the research out there says you need to catch kids at this young age — four, five and six — when they already have a natural interest in science.”
Each day includes hands-on activities that approach the theme through the lenses of art and exercise, as well as more traditional scientific learning and field trips that relate to the week’s topic. At the start of the day, campers have the opportunity to speak with a professional, a “STEM superstar,” to learn about their experience in their field and ask questions.
“I think it’s extremely important that girls see role models that look like me and other women because I want them to not be intimidated about a field that may be male-dominated, for example,” said Moogega Stricker, a “STEM superstar” and NASA Jet Propulsion Lab engineer, in the same video. “I want them to change our future.”
One of the main focuses of the camp is to encourage girls to see themselves in a STEM-related field. Activities aimed at self-reflection challenge what campers have been taught about what a scientist is and hope to give campers the confidence they need to be successful.
“On day one, girls do the ‘draw a scientist’ test, and girls will typically draw an Einstein-type figure in the lab,” Marshall said. “By day five, girls are starting to draw females, and they’re drawing those less traditional pictures of a scientist out in the field doing things beyond the lab. By their final day with us, girls are drawing themselves and stating what they want to do in STEM.”