AAUW Tech Trek at Highlands Targets Girls for Science and Math

Professor Sara Brown works with a student.

Highlands forestry professor Sara Brown, right, helps Amanda Perea interpret tree rings during the AAUW Tech Trek Camp at Highlands. Photo by Margaret McKinney/Highlands University

Las Vegas, N.M. – Eighth grade girls from around New Mexico gained hands-on science knowledge from Highlands University women faculty at an AAUW Tech Trek Camp aimed at building confidence and stimulating interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

The American Association of University Women New Mexico sponsored the camp July 12 – 18 in collaboration with Highlands University.

Forestry professor Sara Brown taught two workshops during Tech Trek titled, Wildfire Science: It’s Hot!

“Research shows that if you engage girls’ interest in science in their middle school years they are much more likely to pursue STEM professions,” Brown said. “With this workshop I want to give the girls a flavor of how much fun wildfire science is while also incorporating math and science concepts.”

During the wildfire workshop, the girls learned about reconstructing fire history using dendrochronology – the study of annual growth in tree rings over time. Fire ecologists and fire managers use this kind of data to better manage forest health.

Amanda Perea, a 13-year-old from Albuquerque, was in Brown’s workshop.

“It’s inspiring seeing women professors at Highlands that have succeeded in the science field and love what they do because I hope to be a chemist someday,” Perea said.

Some other hands-on workshops presented by Highlands science faculty include biology professor Carol Linder’s Faces of Cancer, biology professor Jessica Snow’s Physiologically Speaking, and biology professor Mary Shaw’s DNA Extraction. Kate Ziegler, a geologic consultant and former Highlands professor, presented a workshop, The Water Beneath Our Feet.

Karyl Lyne of Las Vegas is the AAUW New Mexico co-president.

“The Highlands women science faculty who presented workshops are exceptional, astounding role models with tremendous dedication to sharing their knowledge,” Lyne said. “They have the gift of showing these young girls that science and technology are both exciting and rewarding. The professors’ enthusiasm is contagious.”

Lyne said a number of other women working in science and math fields also taught workshops and classes at Tech Trek.

Elizabeth Ratzlaff, coordinator for Highlands University’s Achieving in Research, Math and Science Center (ARMAS), was the camp director.

“Elizabeth Ratzlaff provided vision, leadership, creativity, energy and extraordinary commitment to educating and inspiring these girls,” Lyne said.

Ratzlaff said women in New Mexico and across the nation remain underrepresented in many STEM fields.

“Programs like Tech Trek at Highlands give girls the opportunity to explore science careers they may never have considered or known about,” Ratzlaff said. “We hope to see them studying here someday.”

AAUW piloted the first Tech Trek Camp in California at Stanford University in 1998. Since then, AAUW has initiated Tech Trek in 11 states. The camp at Highlands is the second presented in New Mexico.

Lyne said that AAUW data shows that girls that have participated in Tech Trek take more science and math classes in high school than the national average and also attend college at a higher than average rate.

“We’re changing lives with this program. AAUW is so grateful for the generosity of the Highlands administration, faculty, staff and students for providing a wonderful setting and support for Tech Trek New Mexico,” Lyne said.