Going away to college and staying in the college dorms for the first time can be intimidating, especially when you’re still in junior high school. However, this scenario represented a unique opportunity for eight girls from Oakdale, Riverbank, and Escalon to experience college life and learn more about math, science, and themselves.
Tech Trek is a weeklong camp developed to encourage girls finishing the seventh grade to explore the fields of math and science, and is sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Oakdale Tech Trek attendees were Sydney Hastert, Brooke Wong, Chloe Williams, and Sabrina Franciosa. Riverbank attendees were Mary Kottalis and Breanna Rodriguez. Escalon attendees were Cecilia Armas-Munoz and Samantha Martin.
The camp was held in June at the campus of CSU Fresno, and also at a handful of other universities throughout the state for girls sponsored by other California branches of AAUW.
The girls lived in the college dorms with other girls and chaperones from around the state and ate at the college commissary for a week. They took hands-on classes in math and science from female teachers and professors, did experiments and participated in labs both in and outside of the classroom, including field trips.
“Before I had gone to Tech Trek I was very nervous and excited at the same time,” said Kottalis, now an eighth grader at Riverbank’s Cardozo Middle School. “My overall experience there was amazing and not what I was expecting.”
There is a selection process that the girls go through to attend the camp. They first had to be nominated by a teacher, then they each wrote an autobiography and why they wanted to go to the camp and why they should receive the scholarship to attend. They then went through an interview process with local AAUW members.
Escalon’s El Portal Middle School eighth grader Armas-Munoz said that she “got a little teary” when selected to go to the camp because it meant so much to her. She added that she wanted to go to Tech Trek because she heard it was fun and she likes math.
She admitted that at first, she was a little scared about going to Tech Trek because she hadn’t been away to camp before but then she met people and made new friends.
“I got used to it because I had a dorm mate,” she said. “We just started talking and got used to it.”
Oakdale Junior High School eighth grader Wong said she thought Tech Trek would just be going to the college campus, but found out it was so much more. She said she was excited when they got to go on field trips as well, especially a canoe trip on the San Joaquin River where the girls studied wildlife.
“The girls that have gone through (Tech Trek) say it was the highlight of their lives,” said local Tech Trek coordinator Clydora Hippler. “It changed their perspective on education and encouraged them to pursue it.”
Kottalis thought the most interesting thing at Tech Trek was the ‘Mathemagic’ tricks.
“They were so fascinating that I didn’t think they would be possible but I was proved wrong,” she said.
Wong said that her favorite Tech Trek class was ‘Motion Coaster,’ which helped her learn more about science and how to construct things. Armas-Munoz noted the Motion Coaster was her favorite class as well. Wong explained that they built roller coasters out of foam pipe and duct tape then used different sized marbles to study how fast and far they’d travel on the coaster.
Aside from learning more about math and science and the careers they can pursue in these fields, the girls learned more about themselves, too.
“I learned how to open myself up to others and trust my teammates,” Kottalis said of her personal growth. “It took a lot of courage but now I can finally say, ‘yes, I do trust you.’”
Wong said that she learned that she can make friends really quickly, adding that she became friends with her roommate.
“What a wonderful growth opportunity,” Hippler said of Tech Trek. “…It isn’t just the idea of Tech Trek, it’s all that goes along with it.”
Hippler added that the AAUW members want to give the girls support beyond just scholarships, but also being mentors and helping them.
“Tech Trek is such a great learning camp but it’s not just work, it’s also fun and games,” Kottalis said. “You learn that there is more than one good person in your life and that sometimes you just have to speak up and let them know you’re there.”
She added that Tech Trek was a great experience for her and all the other girls who attended. She wanted to thank everyone who believed in her.
Locally, girls who attended Tech Trek as seventh graders become eligible to apply for a special AAUW scholarship when they become high school seniors.
Annually, the local AAUW chapter holds a Film Matinee fundraiser. The proceeds from the event support the local scholarship program and provide the funds for scholarships for local girls to attend Tech Trek at CSU Fresno.
This year, the film matinee will take place at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18 at the Galaxy Theater in Riverbank. Wine and homemade hors d’oeuvres will be served. There will be an opportunity drawing with differently themed baskets.
The film is “Sweet Land,” about a German mail order bride who comes to the United States. Tickets are $25 each and may be purchased by contacting S. Hudson at 847-8553.
Along with the local branch’s scholarship program and Tech Trek “Camperships,” AAUW’s fundraising efforts also support Speech Trek, AAUW’s Educational Foundation (national), and Legal Advocacy Fund to support women who have been discriminated against in the workplace.
The local chapter is open to women with at least a two-year college degree and serves the Oakdale, Riverbank, Escalon and north Modesto area.
AAUW statewide sends approximately 600 girls to six college campuses for the Tech Trek program. The camp is designed to develop interests, excitement, and self-confidence in junior high age girls. All sleeping, eating, instructional, and recreational facilities for the camps are located on various university campuses throughout the state. The campuses for Tech Trek camps include CSU Fresno, Mills College, Stanford University, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and Whittier College.