(Campers looking over their work | Photo courtesy of Walden Kirsch, Intel)
Bend recently played host to a first-of-its-kind STEAM camp for 54 girls from 20 cities and towns across Oregon. The seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students called the OSU-Cascades campus home from July 28-August 3 during the first Girl Up campaign’s Women in Science camp to be held in the U.S.
The Women in Science camps are sponsored by the Intel Foundation in collaboration with the U.S. State Department and the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign, which was founded in 2010 and works internationally on gender equality issues.
The camp’s focus on STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and design and mathematics — gives girls from underserved communities in Oregon and elsewhere the opportunity to build confidence, learn technology skills and unlock their leadership potential.
The Bend camp was Girl Up’s eighth event this year and its first for middle schoolers anywhere. Previous camps were held in Namibia, Ethiopia, Kosovo and Estonia and were designed for high school girls.
The camps began in 2015 with a focus on eliminating barriers for girls and women to access STEAM education and careers by intervening during the important middle-school years, when students begin to consider career options. As a result of this strategy, 78 percent of past campers now enrolled in college courses are studying STEAM subjects, according to camp sponsors.
The Intel Employee Service Corps, Intel Foundation’s skills-based employee volunteering program, staffed the camp with ten volunteers from the company’s Hillsboro campus who logged roughly 10,000 hours throughout the week. The Intel Foundation contributed $75,000 to the camp, which was free for attendees.
Intel’s Hillsboro, Oregon campuses, located about 15 miles west of Portland, are home to approximately 20,000 workers who develop and manufacture microprocessors. The company is the largest private employer in Oregon.
Laurie Horenstein, program lead for the Intel Employee Service Corps, said planning for the Bend camp began in October 2018 in conjunction with Girl Up, which runs the selection process for campers and chooses the locations of the camps.
“Our goal was to get girls from across the state, and we got them from Portland and eastern Oregon as well as Roseburg, Bend, Redmond, Madras and Warm Springs,” said Horenstein. “And Oregon State University-Cascades fit all of our needs. We had housing, we had food, rooms, electronics and a gorgeous campus.”
Horenstein, who’s been working with the camps for four years, said the focus on international locations was a result of need. After taking a leadership role in the planning process, she said part of her focus turned to figuring out a way to put on a camp in the U.S., which took a couple years.
“Most of these girls, when I talk to them, they don’t have this kind of experience, this immersion, available in their middle schools. So, this gives them the opportunity to be on the cutting edge of technology,” Horenstein said. “The beauty about this camp is they can’t be it if they can’t see it. This is all hands on, and for them to have access to hands on experiences they can do anything they want.”
Horenstein said the girls walk away from the camps having had access to technology that they’ve never had before as well as mentorship experiences from industry professionals who show them what’s possible with technology.
State Rep. Cheri Helt, who represents House District 54 that includes Bend and other parts of Deschutes County, was in attendance on the final day of the camp during the girls’ closing presentations.
Rep. Helt, who served on the Bend-La Pine School Board for eight years, said it’s important to create opportunities for kids around STEAM career paths and to make sure they have access to those classes in their schools.
“It’s awesome that we’re igniting the passion of young women to go into nontraditional careers, and I really believe that this is the way that we make a path toward pay equity,” said Rep. Helt. “We’ve got to get gender equal representation, and we have to start a lot younger than we traditionally think that we do to get kids into careers that have high demand and high pay.”
“I think we have a lot of improvement to do in this area,” Rep. Helt added. “I think that it’s really important that we start young and give the kids the courage and confidence to be able to continue to move forward and excel in these areas.”