Helping Girls Find Their STEM Passion
Kea Jolicoeur didn’t play with Legos as a child. Instead, she spent her early years traveling around the world in a 15-passenger van with her family, who owned and operated an outdoor adventure school.
But when Jolicoeur was a rising eighth grader, she spent a week at the AAUW Tech Trek camp at Stanford University. Tech Trek is a summer camp designed to make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) exciting and accessible to girls in middle school. There she built a solar oven and discovered a love of engineering and design.
“Tech Trek was my first hands-on experience in STEM,” says Jolicoeur. “It was an incredibly unique experience that introduced me to the field of engineering. Before Tech Trek, I didn’t even realize that engineering was a degree option in college.”
Years later, her path led to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where she studied mechanical design and manufacturing engineering. She graduated this past spring with a bachelor’s degree and is poised to begin her professional career, combining what she loves and what she grew up doing.
“What I love most about engineering is not the computation or math,” says Jolicoeur. “It’s the problem solving and hands-on experience side that I’m passionate about. I want that to be the focus of whatever work I’m doing. … I’m currently weighing a couple of job offers as a mechanical designer in the outdoor industry.”
For the last seven years, Jolicoeur has returned to Tech Trek each summer to help other girls get inspired. She teaches robotics and engineering basics at the same AAUW camp she attended. Last year, she also began serving as the camp’s co-director.
“At Tech Trek, girls get an opportunity to discover not only math and science but themselves as well,” she says. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see the girls come out of their shells.”
Tech Trek was started in 1998 by AAUW of California member Marie Wolbach. The camps expanded across the country in 2014, and 21 AAUW National Tech Trek Program camps were held on college and university campuses across 10 states in 2015. This year, each camp also included a course on coding and app development, thanks to a collaboration between AAUW and Verizon Foundation. Some 2015 camps also featured a pilot course that introduced girls to cybersecurity, sponsored by Symantec.
“Our goal is to deliver on the promise of a brighter future,” says Phil Puthumana, program manager for Verizon Foundation. “At Tech Trek, the girls may know something about technology when they come in, but as they exit that week, they actually have developed a prototype of an app. They’ve actually learned to code a bit. A lot of research shows how the middle school age is pivotal for young women. It’s exciting to be able to see what those young women are able to produce years out, as they get into high school and college and beyond.”
Jolicoeur admits that STEM is a difficult road for women and is not one that many have walked before. But, she says, if you are passionate about something, nothing can hold you back. Her advice for girls: “Find your passion, and go after it.”
By continuing to expand and evolve, the AAUW National Tech Trek Program is changing the face of STEM and reaching more girls every year. AAUW is proud to invest in the next generation of STEM trailblazers like Jolicoeur.
To support AAUW’s STEM education programs, please give to the AAUW Fund.
This story was written for the 2015 AAUW annual report by Beth Pearsall.