For Emily Pak, camps like Just for Girls are about making a difference, one girl at a time, in the field of engineering where women are still underrepresented.
The third-year chemistry student at Western is an instructor at the summer camp, which empowers young girls from grade 4 to 8 interested in studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Just for Girls is a part of Discovery Western Summer Camps, and ran for two weeks this summer, from July 3 to 7 and August 1 to 4. Each session had 25 participants, all of whom identified as girls.
Run by Western Engineering Outreach and supported by charitable organization Actua, the camp provided participants the opportunity to gain hands-on skills and meet like-minded girls interested in STEM programs. Parents of participants were invited to see demonstrations of projects created by the girls.
Pak said Just for Girls creates an environment where girls, exclusively, are sought out and invited to learn about engineering.
“Just for Girls affirms that girls belong in engineering. It’s not that girls can become engineers if they want to, it’s that they should, and that shift in tone makes all the difference.” – Emily Pak, third-year chemistry student at Western and instructor at Just for Girls
The central theme of Just for Girls and other girls-only engineering camps is breaking down the barriers that have traditionally kept girls away from STEM fields. With the guidance of instructors like Pak, a transformative shift is occurring.
“We specifically chose undergraduate instructors who are women studying STEM, so that the Just for Girls campers have the chance to meet a role model and potential mentor who is a woman in the field,” said Georgia Trifon, outreach program coordinator (equity, diversity and inclusion programs) at Western Engineering.
Through age-appropriate and creative projects, Just for Girls gives campers the opportunity to try all eight disciplines of engineering: artificial intelligence systems, chemical, civil, electrical, integrated, mechanical, mechatronic systems and software. For instance, in the project titled ‘Let’s Play Mermaids, the girls design, construct and test prosthetic mermaid tails.
The program is significant to both campers and instructors alike, providing the girls with the opportunity to ask questions about STEM fields and try out new skills, while giving instructors the rewarding experience of inspiring future engineers.
Atmosphere brings campers back
The stories from returning campers speak volumes about the influence of the camp. Participants like Isabelle Fraser and Amelia Perfetto, ages 11 and 12 respectively and both going into grade seven, highlighted the positive camp experience. The diversity of experiments, the interactive atmosphere and new friendships drew them back for another year.
“I like that we do two experiments a day and there’s a lot of variety, because we learn about different engineering disciplines,” said Fraser, who is interested in chemical engineering and participated in experiments in that discipline during the sessions.
Eesha Sharma, summer coordinator and third-year Western engineering student, said seeing the girls so passionate about the field at such a young age was inspirational.
“The camp has provided an opportunity for girls to see their potential in the field, and it makes me wish I had the same opportunity when I was younger. We need more women representation in the field, and I am hopeful that programs like this will help contribute to this goal,” said Sharma.
The next camp for girls organized by Western Engineering is Go ENG Girl, meant for students in grades 7 to 10., on Oct. 14 at the Western campus and Oct. 21 in Sarnia, Ont. More information about the camps can be found here.