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Girls in Technology camp aims to interest kids in STEM

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Emma Barbee, 16, is a Tigard High School sophomore and one of only a handful of girls involved in the schools technology classes. She is hosting a camp for girls next month aimed at teaching them about science and technology

Emma Barbee isn’t sure what she wants to do when she grows up, but she knows it’ll involve getting more girls involved in the field she loves — science and technology.

Barbee, 16, is a sophomore at Tigard High School. As a freshman, Barbee joined the school’s popular robotics team. The team builds robots and computer games throughout the year.

It’s a passion Barbee has had since she was young. Her father works at Intel and she grew up surrounded by math and science, she said.

But in a room full of her classmates, only two other girls had joined the club.

“I looked around on the first day and there were three girls in a team of 50 people. I realized that I needed to do something to change this,” she said.

It was the same in her studies, too, she said — young women seemed to shy away from classes involving computers or engineering.

“Once a field is full of a certain gender, it’s hard to break out of that,” Barbee said. “The people in charge are biased in hiring processes and it’s hard to break into it. There is a lot of stigma with society, kids taught from young age that it’s a ‘boy thing’ to like engineering or technology.”

It’s a common problem in schools across the country. Males are drawn to STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — more than women. Schools are struggling to figure out how to get more girls involved in the sciences, and Barbee said she has an idea.

“It’s been picking at the back of my brain for a year to do something,” she said.

Barbee is planning a weeklong STEM camp for middle school girls next month in order to get them interested in different types of fields that they may not have known about before.

The Girls in Technology exploration camp will include days centered around making video games, robotics and cryptography, as well as Lego robotics and interactive science labs.

She’s also working with local women already involved in those fields to speak to her students, she said.

The free camp begins June 15 and Barbee said it’s already full.

Barbee said she finds working with engineering and technology a satisfying challenge.

“It’s a challenge that I don’t get with regular school,” she said. “School has always been easy for me, but this is a challenge and something to work at and problem solve. It’s a really nice change of pace and it makes me think. There are so many different ways to go after a solution.”

A member of Girl Scout Troop 40088, the camp will help Barbee earn her Gold Award — the equivalent of an Eagle Scout award in the Boy Scouts.

The Gold Award goes to scouts who dedicate 80 hours of community service to a project that positively benefits the community, Barbee said.

“This is a community thing,” she said. “It’s not just a Girl Scout thing.”

Barbee said she’ll start small this year — only 25 students will be accepted into this year’s camp — but Barbee already has her sights set on next year.

“If it’s successful, we’ll make it bigger.”

Check it out:

What: Girls in Technology exploration camp

Where: Tigard High School, 9000 S.W. Durham Road

When: Monday , June 15 – Thursday, June 18

How much: Free

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