AAUW Tech Trek
Science & Math Camp for Girls
Palo Alto, California
When the American Association of University Women (AAUW) published a 1992 report that girls were being shortchanged in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—it struck a nerve with Marie Wolbach. Her own daughters were being teased as "brains." And Marie herself had gone into nursing because an M.D. seemed impossible. In 1970, due to gender, she was not even allowed to apply for physician’s assistant training. "I wanted girls interested in STEM to stay inspired and confident," she says.
Founded in 1998, Tech Trek camps are held on college campuses so middle-school girls get a thrilling taste of university life. Experiences range from studying marine life in San Francisco Bay to reading X-rays to extracting DNA. In 15 years, the organization has hosted some 10,000 girls. From the first camp held on the Stanford University campus, Tech Trek has extended to numerous universities in five more states, with a plan of going national. Some of the girls who have attended Tech Trek camps have become the first in their family to graduate from college.
One of them is Ellen Le, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who yearned for her to succeed. With the organization’s guidance, she applied for college, graduating in chemical engineering with a full scholarship from Stanford; she’s now headed for Harvard.
Marie credits Mary Purcell, a former president of AAUW, "who saw the importance of the program and worked with me to help make volunteering valuable to people—and fun." She also greatly admires the late opera singer Beverly Sills, who became a passionate advocate for the arts after retiring from the stage. "She proved we don’t have to do the same thing all of our lives," Marie says.
As Marie’s heroine, Eleanor Roosevelt, implored: "You must do the thing you think you cannot do."