Why Girls Taking Up Space is sending Arizona youth to space camp

Tucson, AZ | Submitted by Czarina Salido

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In the middle school grades, girls begin to lose interest in math and science. As a result, there are few women completing bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. In fields such as computer science and engineering, women make up only a fraction of the workforce.

Girls Taking Up Space (GTUS) is working to remedy and reverse this trend one girl at a time by helping them to maintain an active interest in STEM. GTUS is engaging with especially underrepresented groups, such as Native Americans, through extra-curricular activities. Created by the collaborative group, Time in Cosmology, the Tucson-area program is helping to expand the opportunities and future educational and career goals for Native American girls by immersing them in the horizon-broadening Space Camp experience, and to then have the chance to expand and become mentors for others like themselves through the exposure of leadership and team-building activities.

Native American youth face unique obstacles in education. According to the data included in the Arizona Education Progress Meter, they’re far less likely than any other group to graduate from high school. This puts them at serious disadvantage when it comes to working.

So far, GTUS has sent three Pascua Yaqui Tribe girls to Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The youth have been to the camp three years in a row, with a new cohort beginning this year. The five-day camp experience is unlike any other. Youth can learn to fly in a simulator, experience moon gravity, and even try out the multi-axis trainer. Campers then divide into teams to participate in a mission. Some work in mission control, guided by the same manual that governed the Apollo missions. Meanwhile, their peers don real space suits and harness up for a spacewalk. The week is focused on team building, enhancing problem solving, and critical thinking skills all through hands-on activities.

But the impact isn’t limited to the three students chosen to attend the camp. During the school year, GTUP works with local youth to encourage STEM learning. Students are invited to weekly sessions at the Pascua Yaqui Clubhouse. They explore science and technology through hands-on experiments, and have even entered a local science fair. All of this is made possible thanks to generous donors, including Space Hipsters, the Pascua Yaqui tribe, Tucson Federal Credit Union and many individuals.

The program has had such a widespread success that they’re hoping to expand to other states. Students are now more aware of their grades and the importance of education. Many have improved their grades and are expanding their vision of the future. And because an estimated 64% of all Space Camp graduates took more STEM classes and 50% choose a STEM related career field, the long-term benefits are immeasurable.

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