MTSU hosts STEM camp to urge young girls to explore science, tech careers

Middle Tennessee State University is again hosting a summer STEM camp for young girls this week in hopes of sparking their interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Running through Friday, the weeklong camp begins each day inside the Kirksey Old Main Building before moving to different locations on the Blue Raider campus.

“Today we got to ride like this four-wheel vehicle, and we peddled and it was really fun,” said 11-year-old Uwoduhi Bird, who will be going to Central Magnet School this year. Bird’s sister Gabriella participated in the STEM program last year, which made her want to participate as well.

The “four-wheel vehicle” to which Bird referred was created by MTSU’s Rover team as part of the Experimental Vehicles program and is used during an annual NASA-sponored competition involving universities across the country.

One of the camp’s missions is to attract girls underrepresented in STEM fields, specifically African-American, Hispanic and Native American girls. Started by Tom Cheatham, director of the Tennessee STEM Education Center at MTSU before his retirement six months ago, the STEM camp is now coordinated by professor Ginger Rowell.

This year, about 15 fifth- through eighth-graders are participating in the camp, including Marisa Haynes, Trinity Brown and Uwoduhi Bird. The girls dived into hands-on activities earlier this week inside a classroom filled with excitement and anticipation.

One of the projects was building a solar robot, and once given instructions, the girls began working in teams rigorously, with another ride on the Rover the prize for whoever finished putting their robot together first.

This team activity also allowed the girls to learn some life lessons — one team let their eagerness get the best of them and forgot to read the instructions!

“I learned that you have to have a routine to do things,” said 11 year-old Marisa Haynes, who attends Lavergne Middle School.

Classmate Trinity Brown, also 11, added: “It wasn’t that hard, but I learned to always double check your work before you move on.”

Professor Saeed Foroudastan, associate dean of the MTSU College of Basic and Applied Sciences, taught in the STEM camp last year and is doing so again this year.

On this day, Foroudastan walked around the room observing and sometimes giving instructions to the different groups as they worked on their robots. He shared how he wants all of the girls in the program to go to college and be successful, and that they aren’t limited to what they can do.

“Engineering and science is not just a man thing; females can do it, too,” he said, adding that the campers “were shocked” when he showed them various experiments

Many of the girls already have aspirations for the future. Brown wants to be a marine veterinarian; Haynes wants to be a lawyer’ and Bird wants to be a pediatric neurosurgeon.

Of course, those plans could change after this week. On Wednesday’s agenda: “We get to cut open a cow’s eyeball,” said Bird with excitement.

The camp ends Friday with student poster presentations at Kirksey Old Main.

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