2020 was to be the seventh year that the American Association of University Women in New Mexico ran Tech Trek NM to nurture girls’ interests in science, technology, engineering, and math. In April, 60 seventh grade girls from across the state were selected to attend the STEM camp scheduled to be held at New Mexico Tech in June.
When Covid-19 made holding the camp on-site impossible, AAUW decided to try a new approach. Take the camp to the girls, or more specifically mail the camp to the girls. Thus was born Tech-Trek-in-a-Box.
Tech Trek, under normal circumstances, is a week-long residential camp at New Mexico Tech where girls participate in STEM classes, workshops, and field trips. However, because of the nature of the activities, it was not feasible to run classes online so it was decided that all instructions and supplies for workshop activities could be boxed and mailed.
With permission from parents and guardians, campers this year received a box that included a backpack, a Kindle tablet loaded with apps, a graphing calculator, workshop supplies and instructions, and a journal. The boxes were mailed in early June, arriving just before Tech Trek was scheduled to start. Girls were encouraged to forge a virtual community of Trekkers by sharing information and experiences even while apart.
Once at camp, the girls meet women STEM professionals, the Kindle also included videos from the PBS series “Ask a Scientist,” highlighting New Mexico women in STEM careers, and an e-book, Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers who Changed the World.
One workshop involved conducting a hop test, a diagnostic tool used in physical therapy. The girls were asked to measure how far they could hop on one foot and then the other, repeating the exercise three times and submitting their data. All data was compiled and then sent back to them, with guidance on how to model the data with their graphing calculators.
Another workshop involved participation in NASA’s Cloud Observation Citizen Science program. With their Kindles, girls took photos of the sky, recording the date, time, city and zip code on a cloud chart form, which they sent to Tech Trek, or to the NASA website.
A chemistry workshop included a series of experiments exploring the effects of temperature, time, and catalysts on chemical reactions.
A biology workshop included assembling and creating insect models and studying pollinators such as bees and butterflies in their neighborhood.
In a summer marked by canceled activities and programs, Tech-Trek-in-a-Box was designed to engage Trekkers in exploring STEM concepts as a group, while still at home. A key aspect was that all workshops could be completed without internet access.
Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
One enthusiastic Trekker wrote: “Thank you so much for the Tech Trek in a box! I love it and can’t wait to do the experiments and use everything. Thanks for thinking of me this summer!”
A mother wrote: “[My daughter] received her Tech Trek box yesterday - and was wow! Was she ever oh-so surprised and delighted … Kudos to the Tech Trek team for knowing how to hook a teen - and quickly!”
Next year AAUW plans to run two separate sessions of Tech Trek, one for the girls who would have attended this year and one for the girls who will be selected next year.
In the meantime, AAUW is fostering Trekkers’ STEM curiosity by bringing fun camp activities to them this summer.
AAUW thanks to supporters Honeywell and Facebook, as well as to AAUW members and other donors across the state for the funding that made Tech-Trek-in-a-Box possible.