Employees from STEM-related companies across the county presented about their careers to the group of girls.

A group of local girls spent last week at a camp like many others during the summer, participating in "ice-breakers" to get to know one another, engaging in fun activities and meeting new friends. But it wasn't your average summer camp.STAFF PHOTO: OLIVIA SINGER - The mini science experiment gave the girls a fun introduction to STEM learning.

The group did experiments like making ice cream from scratch, learned how to make a parachute, participated in a bug safari, learned about watersheds and pollution prevention, transportation and city planning, circuits and electricity, met with OMSI employees, Intel engineers, and learned about body vitals and systems. And the group was entirely comprised of Latina girls and organized by a team of Latina women.

Around 60 girls from Hillsboro, Forest Grove and Beaverton took part in Adelante Mujeres' "Chicas" STEM camp at Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, a camp formed to introduce young women, particularly from minority backgrounds, to careers that involve science, technology, engineering and mathematics.STAFF PHOTO: OLIVIA SINGER - Third grader Julissa Leon-Sandoval participated in ice cream making during the STEM camp, where the girls also learned the science behind it.

"We are lacking in women in the STEM fields, it's a super big problem especially (among) women in color," said the youth camp's project coordinator, Carina Quintanilla. "Almost every single girl here is a Latina, so we are just basically providing opportunities. The camp is totally free. Getting them interested from a young age I think is really important, because it gets them ... to look at it as a career that they could potentially have later on."

The STEM camp is part of a three-week camp series within the Chicas program, but the camp is open to all girls in the third through 12th grades, even those who are not part of Chicas, Quintanilla said.

The week prior, Adelante provided a mechatronics camp, where girls learned to build and program robots. This week, the nonprofit group put on an arts and cultural camp focused on healthy lifestyles.

Glencoe High School sophomore and longtime Chicas participant Roxy Neri-Wong said the youth program, and the camps, open the eyes of girls like her to different careers and educational opportunties, and how to pursue them.

"Most people that I know of in the Chicas program are usually low-income, and most of their parents didn't really finish school," Neri-Wong said. "So we are kind of learning new things, and it really helps us broaden our horizons in what we want to work in and to expand our interests in science."

Neri-Wong said she has always been motivated, but she wasn't sure how realistic it would be to pursue her dream of being a pediatrician.

"Something that I specifically remember growing up is being very driven into making something out of myself, especially since my family didn't really grow up with a lot of education, not a lot of opportunities," she said. "So I kind of knew what I wanted to do, I just didn't know how to get there. And this program helped a lot, specifically in what jobs there are."

Neri-Wong said getting the opportunity to meet and hear from mostly female, and some Latina, employees from Virginia Garcia, Intel, OMSI, Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, and ChickTech, among others, proves to girls like herself that these STEM careers are possible for them.

"It helps if there's a little girl just like I was once that doesn't know what they want to be, and they don't really see anybody that looks like them that could possibly have the job that they (want)," she said. "I feel like these camps really help with representation, especially for me. The people I go to for my healthcare ... they usually don't look like me and they usually aren't even women and so there's not a lot of representation. ... The presenters ... they are (mostly) women, Latinas, and that's something we can identify with."

The companies held workshops at the camp throughout the week and employees presented about their careers, all in an effort to show the underrepresented girls that any job is possible.

"It kind of helps us envision, 'That could be me,'" Neri-Wong said. "'If she can make it, and she (was) almost in the same position as I am, I can definitely make it.'"

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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