Program Description: Tech Trek is a statewide program bringing 8th grade girls to a local university (in our case CSU Fresno) for a week-long STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career and pre-college immersion experience. Each girl’s week costs $950 and many people ask if such a large investment on a preteen is wise. Our chapter has answered, resoundingly yes! Getting to that answer involved assessing the quality of the Tech Trek programming and the need for technological education in our community.
Tech Trek began 17 years ago as a program of AAUW California and was “designed to develop interest, excitement, and self-confidence in young women who will enter eighth grade in the fall.” http://aauw-techtrek.org/faq.php Teachers and experienced professional women are selected for Tech Trek based on their specialized knowledge and interest in working with middle school girls. These women must be currently working professionally in a STEM field and many are credentialed middle school teachers. The girls have opportunities to explore their interests and discover new interests through hands-on activities in science, math, technology, and related fields. At the CSU-Fresno Tech Trek camp, each girl is provided with a selection of rotating labs so that she can experience individual specialties more deeply. In the past, these labs have been in fields such as Computer Science, Forensics, Cellular Biology, Astronomy, Robotics, and Environmental Studies. There are also off-campus field trips to places like the Chaffee Zoo and the San Joaquin River. Another important aspect of the experience for many of the girls is the opportunity of experiencing life on a college campus – sleeping in dorm accommodations (adult volunteers act a counselors and monitors—many are former Tech Trekkers themselves), eating at a campus dining hall, and exploring the resources of the campus under careful supervision. One of our past campers described it as an ‘eye-opening,’ another ‘life changing.’
Selection Process: To obtain an interview for a Tech Trek scholarship, girls must be nominated by a science or math teacher who writes a letter of recommendation, have at least a B average, and complete an application including short answer questions and a personal essay. During the interview, branch AAUW members are evaluating the girls’ likelihood of deriving maximum benefit from the experience as indicated by the interest and motivation they have already exhibited in learning new things (particularly math or science), their apparent ability to work well in group situations, their maturity, and their family’s ability to provide extracurricular learning opportunities. We are also looking at the girls’ ability and willingness to share their experience so as to encourage and motivate their peers. After their camp experience, the Madera AAUW branch follows up with the girls–providing opportunities for them to share their experiences (consolidate learning) and encouraging them to continue to investigate educational and vocational choices. The branch makes a long-term commitment to encouraging these young women through follow-up contact, invitations to science- and technology-related local programs and field trips, etc. In return, we ask the girls to make a commitment to sharing their experiences with branch members, teachers, peers, and ultimately hope they will inspire classmates and siblings.
Madera County Demographics: With respect to the need in Madera County to encourage careers in science and technology, Madera is a mostly rural county (70.6 persons/sq. mi., only two incorporated cities [Chowchilla, Madera]). Madera county has a population of 152, 218 (2012 est.), of whom 55% identified themselves as “Hispanic/Latino.” Combining other “non White” categories accounts for another 15% of our population. Clearly, there is a diverse population in our county, from indigenous people to agricultural employers and workers to artists and coastal transplants and retirees. Madera County’s economic base consists mainly of agriculture (There are about 2,000 non-Farm businesses in Madera, however; only 29 of them have more than 100 employees). Health care and social assistance jobs comprised the largest number of non-Farm employment positions, followed by retail trade, construction, and manufacturing. Almost 20% of the population lived below the poverty level in 2011 and Madera County has one of the largest high school non-completion rates in CA and one of the lowest college-going rates. Madera’s present unemployment rate (12.4%) is well above the CA average (9.3%).
Prospects for STEM careers in Madera County and the Central Valley of California: The disconnect between the available positions in the region and the skills of job seekers further complicates the unemployment and poverty rates in Madera County. National news coverage has documented of the lack of individuals with technical training and skills in California’s Central Valley available to fill existing job vacancies (e.g., Washington Post, Feb. 2011 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/01/ AR2011020106092.html). There have been several studies showing that technical and skilled jobs are here, but trained job candidates are not, resulting in employers relocating or bringing in people from outside of our region to fill their jobs. That this should be occurring even during times where there was a 15% (and higher) unemployment rate speaks graphically to the disconnect between the local employment opportunities and the education and training our children are obtaining.
How can you help? For an organization, like Madera AAUW, with many members who are educators or who struggled themselves to obtain a college education, there is a strongly felt need to be part of the solution for the next generation. Through fundraisers and personal appeals for individual and service group donations, the Madera Branch was able to send 5 girls to Tech Trek camp in 2013. However, we had over 30 applications from highly qualified, motivated, and economically disadvantaged girls. There are 40 women in our branch, many educators and healthcare professionals, working to raise the money to help make these experiences possible for a larger percentage of the interested girls. We ask that you consider making a donation to help offset the scholarship costs for Madera girls and provide assistance to many of the families with transportation for the interviews, camp experience, and post-camp sharing activities, as well as other local programming expenses. For more specific information regarding descriptions of sponsorship levels and donation process, as well as tax deduction information see sponsorship letter.