Tech Trek in Central Oregon featured in The Bulletin!

August 16th, 2017

Kailey Fisicaro reports on The Bulletin 

(Ryan Brennecke/Bulletin photo)

"At some point in middle school, girls are likely to give up on science, according to a report from the American Association of University Women.

To combat that, the association has put on a science and math camp for girls, known as Tech Trek, at universities around the nation since 1998. The camp offers girls heading into eighth grade opportunities to get hands-on lessons, meet with professional women in science, technology, engineering and math careers, see those jobs up-close and experience life on a college campus.

The Oregon State University-Cascades and Bend branches of the AAUW of Oregon, as well as the Central Oregon STEM Hub, are hosting the event.

OSU-Cascades is hosting the Tech Trek camp through Saturday for more than 30 girls from around Central Oregon.

The camp, which started Sunday, hosts the girls in the university’s dorms for a week, giving them the chance to dive into STEM lessons and activities for a week.

On Wednesday, one group of girls from the camp took a class in chemical engineering put on by two employees of Bend Research: Cathy Phillips, a product development engineer, and Teresa McDonald, a product development chemist.

Phillips told the girls how she never thought she’d go to college, but that in her early 20s, making minimum wage and watching friends get their degrees, she decided to start classes at Central Oregon Community College. She later graduated from Oregon State University in Corvallis with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.

McDonald, too, wasn’t sure about college from an early age. It wasn’t until she saw her high school friends applying for college that she realized she could be going, too.

She started classes at a community college and later graduated from the University of Oregon.

Part of the camp’s goal is to make entering higher education seem attainable for young girls. A 2013 survey by Tech Trek of its camp alumnae, who attended between 2006 and 2009, found 73 percent of respondents were enrolled in a four-year college or university program and expected to graduate within four years from the time of the survey, and 23 percent were attending two-year colleges.

In a classroom upstairs at Tykeson Hall, Phillips asked the girls about a few science fundamentals.

“Has anyone heard of the scientific method?” Phillips said.

All the girls raised their hands.

“It’s a way people test hypotheses, and it’s a set of steps you can do,” said Callie Flemmer, 13, from Elton Gregory Middle School in Redmond.

Phillips talked about how scientists can use the five senses to learn more about the material they are working with — although tasting wouldn’t really be used in a lab.

She then explained how bonds between molecules differ among solids, liquids and gases. Molecules in solids can’t pull apart without breaking, while bonds stretch more in liquids and even more in gases.

Phillips led the girls over to an experiment table with a bin of protective glasses where McDonald had set up in a container of liquid nitrogen. Dipping different items into the liquid, she showed the girls how their molecular bonds changed when frozen: A fresh flower became brittle, while a banana could hammer a nail into a wooden board.

At the next table, the girls ooh-ed and awed over “oobleck,” a thick kind of homemade slime that has properties of a solid and a liquid. The oobleck, sitting in a waterproof speaker, gyrated into the air from the sound vibrations because of colloidal suspension — when a solid is suspended in a liquid.

When Phillips turned off the speaker, the girls touched the oobleck. Dipping their hands into the material slowly, the molecules created room for them, but if they hit the oobleck quickly, it remained solid.

“Tap it hard,” Sierra Sanchez, 13, from High Desert Middle School in Bend said, giggling. The other girls tried, observing as the oobleck put up a hard front.

The girls then made slime from polyvinyl alcohol and borax. When asked, the girls knew polyvinyl alcohol is commonly found in glue, and borax is found in laundry detergent. The two materials come together to make slime, Phillips said.

Looking up from playing with the slime, Alexa Fritz, 13, from Three Rivers School in Sunriver, grinned. “I love this so much,” she said.

“Is it a solid or a liquid?” McDonald asked.

The girls agreed the material — which could form to the shape of a container like a liquid but, like a solid, didn’t pour through their hands — was a mix of both.

Later, wrapping up the course with a final experiment outside, Phillips asked them if they’d join her in a final round of a chant she’d taught them earlier, where the girls moved their fists differently for solids, liquids and gases, as a mnemonic device to remember how molecules move in those different forms.

Sure it was kind of dorky, Phillips said, but she embraces her darkness."


OSU Open Campus Education Coordinator Becky Munn Says,

"I brought the camp to Central Oregon after seeing an AAUW Tech Trek camp in Tillamook run by Emily Henry, the OSU Open Campus coordinator there. I was the Co-Director with Kim DeBroux at this Central Oregon camp.. I knew this was an opportunity I wanted for our Central Oregon girls. Working with Better Together, our Regional Achievement Collaborative, I was able to connect with the AAUW Bend Branch to make it reality.

This is a critical age to keep and increase girls interest in STEM fields and have an on campus experience to let them know that attending college can be a reality and they are familiar with the experience."

"This was the only new camp approved by AAUW this year in the country. We had 36 girls from all over Central Oregon. We raised over $54,000 from organization in the region to support camp. The girls stayed on Campus at OSU-Cascades."