Monterey Bay Aquarium camp teaches girls about marine science
Posted: 07/18/2013 06:58:47 PM PDT
MOSS LANDING -- A group of middle school girls from Monterey and Santa Cruz counties spent the week learning about ocean conservation in Monterey Bay Aquarium's bilingual Young Women in Science camp.
As the girls got ready to paddle, their rows of boats sat, looking like bright yellow, beached whales, a few feet from the water while the guide from Monterey Bay Kayaks gave a rundown on slough safety that ended with a call for questions.
Only one hand shot into the air.
"Is this for emergencies?" asked Jennifer Lopez, a petite, outgoing 12-year-old from Salinas with glittery pink glasses, holding up the orange plastic whistle tethered to her life vest.
Luckily, the whistles stayed quiet throughout the morning. The girls toured the tranquil slough, with curious sea otters, which they had spent the previous day studying, swimming along side them and flocks of elegant terns flying overhead.
The Young Women in Science program was established in 1999 in response to what Claudia Pineda Tibbs, the Aquarium's Hispanic marketing and public relations coordinator, called an alarming lack of women and minorities studying and pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math, commonly called STEM.
"STEM careers were really targeted toward men and toward people who were not of color," Pineda Tibbs said.
"It's really to have the girls see that there are women in science, and break that perception of what a scientist looks like," she added. "Scientists can be women, mothers, people of color."
Pineda Tibbs said the biggest challenge, in the beginning, was getting parents to agree to let their kids to participate in the program, especially in the Latino community, where she said some families are not used to girls spending all day out of the house with a program that's not directly related to school. One of the benefits of the program being bilingual is it allows the girls to share what they learn about conservation with their families and friends, no matter what language they speak.
Now, the program fills quickly. Each year, two first-year Otter Camps accommodate 72 girls and one Ocean Guardians Camp for returning students takes another 45. The final camp of the year will be next week and is fully booked.
The girls join the camp with an array of backgrounds and interests. While the program is bilingual and most campers receive scholarships to cover at least part of the $200 cost, there are no requirements for family income, language or even interest in a career in science.
"Some of them say, 'I want to be a police officer,' some say they want to be marine biologists or they want to work in fashion," Pineda Tibbs said of the participants. "And that's OK because, ultimately, it's inspiring conservation of the ocean. And everyone can do that."
The program incorporates other aspects of conservation, as well, including recycling and composting lessons. The coordinators try to make sure the lunches provided are as close as possible to zero waste.
While the girls' families are only asked to pay a maximum of $200 for the program, the aquarium's cost per participant is about $1,000, including busing the girls around Monterey Bay, activities and lunches. Most of that money comes from grants, membership revenue and donations to the Aquarium's Children's Education Fund.
Campers who are interested in science careers have options to continue with related programs in high school and college.
Rita Medina, 19, of Watsonville, is working her first job this summer as a program assistant for Young Women in Science. She has been involved ever since her years as a camper, and was a volunteer for the Teen Conservation Leaders program in high school. She said the program has helped her decide to study marine biology when she starts at Cabrillo College in the fall.
"I'm getting paid and it's my first job," Medina said. "I really love it."