The Green Academy summer camp at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith took place June 23-27, but it started nine months ago with two UAFS professors’ devotion to encourage more females to pursue careers in STEM fields. Dr. Jen Jamison of Van Buren, assistant professor of chemistry, and Sabrina Gomez of Fort Smith, an electronics technology instructor, created the camp after noticing a scarcity of females working in the sciences. The camp was held for the first time this summer for sixth through ninth grade girls.
"When I was in school going for my bachelor’s in electrical engineering, I was the only female in many of my classes," Gomez said. "Girls need to know that they have just as much ability as boys and that going into science or engineering can be exciting. We are focusing on showing the students positive female role models in these careers so they know that they can do it, too."
Students participated in games and labs covering topics including solar cell power, circuits and gear motors. One camp involved campers harnessing sun and lamplight and converting it into mechanical movement. Another had students build a circuit and draw ethanol across it, allowing electricity to flow through it and power a motor.
Campers also visited three local businesses who have implemented green energy concepts into their operations — Baldor Electric Co., which utilizes energy efficient motors; the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation, which works with local utilities to produce natural gas from waste in the landfill; and the Fort Smith Utility Department, which ensures that the city’s water supply meets government standards and plays a positive role in protecting the environment.
Jamison said the camp helped simplify a subject that can seem intimidating to many students.
"Many people, especially young women, have negative perceptions about the physical sciences for many reasons. A main reason is that the physical sciences are seemingly difficult to understand," she said. "One of my passions is unlocking the mystery associated with the field in hopes of convincing young women that science is a viable career to pursue."
Girls in the Fort Smith area shared Gomez and Jamison’s enthusiasm for the sciences — eighteen female students participated in the camp, exceeding their expected enrollment.
"Initially we had only planned for 12 campers, but we decided to allow more students due to the amount of response we had," Gomez said, adding that six local teachers are also participating in the camp and plan to take concepts from the camp back to their classroom to help encourage more students.
Adeline Newhart, a 13-year-old camper from Lavaca Middle School, said the camp taught her "that girls can do anything they want, including what you think a boy would do."
"I have been having so much fun," she said. "I enjoy getting to meet new friends from other places, and I like doing science hands-on because I can understand it better."
Jamison said she hopes the camp was eye-opening for students.
"We hope we showed these young women that STEM is not something that is this huge, unsolvable mystery," she said. "It is something that anyone can do, and no matter who they are — whether they are girly girls, tomboys, shy or outgoing — there is a place in STEM for them."
Participants in the camp included:
Chaffin Junior High School: Kenleigh Godwin and Krystelle Barraso.
Greenwood Middle School: Brieanna Zietlow.
Lavaca Middle School: Hannah Acosta, Shelby Alexander, Lea Chaffin, Avery Green, Sarah Hockaday, Abigail Howard, Brooklyn Jetton, Shelby Kelley, Beth Ann May, Brynn Meredith, Adeline Newhart and Brooklynn O’Kelley.
Perryville High School: Emily Wise.
Trinity Junior High School: Alice Anders and Claire Hollenbeck.