On July 13, Self-eSTEM kicked off their first Virtual STEM Exploration Camp in an exciting partnership with UC Berkeley’s Department of City and Regional Planning (DCRP)/College of Environmental Design (CED), Lyft, and Kai XR. The engaging, highly interactive camp, which took place from July 13 to July 18, revolved around the theme of "Adapting to a Virtual World." Young participants learned first-hand about environmental design, smart cities, autonomous cars and micro-mobility such as scooters and bicycles, and Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual
Reality (VR) technology.
“Our mission is to build the self-esteem of young girls and women from untapped communities, and provide STEM literacy, leadership, and technical training to actively produce and engage in the economic and labor markets,” says Founding Executive Director of Self-eSTEM, Adamaka Ajaelo. “We want to provide experiences in which young girls can actively see themselves within the STEM pipeline, by pursuing a degree in STEM and then going on later to secure a career within the industry. Our vision is changing the face and culture of STEM innovation!™”
The first day of camp began with Kristen Johnson-Oyoo (Urban Planner, Transport Infrastructure at Google, M.C.P ’14 at UC Berkeley), Jessie Wesley (M.C.P./M.P.H., ’20 at UC Berkeley), and Self-eSTEM board members discussing the STEM behind smart cities, providing an overview of environmental design, and diversity and inclusion. Building on this foundation, the 125+ young participants this summer built and coded their own VR adventures to tackle a real-world problem of reducing the spread of COVID-19 as it relates to transportation and school/social activities. The week culminated in presentations of their work to peers, families, and community partners.
Interactive activities included exploring freehand drawing from memory to map out neighborhoods inspired by Y-PLAN’s mind maps, using Kai XR’s VR platform to design solutions to address COVID-19 in their communities and engaging with presenters from Lyft, including Alec Gletzer (Cal Alum), Jamala Massenburg, Deitrick Franklin, and Shalonda Tillman (Self-eSTEM’s COO and Oakland Educator).
To commemorate this one-of-a-kind STEM camp program, the Close Out Celebration on Saturday, July 18 recognized the achievements of all participants and showed appreciation for volunteers and partners. The celebration included an inspiring keynote address from UC Berkeley’s Dean of the College of Engineering, Tsu-Jae King Liu, Ph.D.
Ms. Tillman of Self-eSTEM reflected, "The STEM camp was another amazing opportunity for me to witness the innovators of the future. As an educator, it is always fascinating to see the positive impact of culturally relevant curriculum. The girls were able to understand and engage with the content very quickly. All of the presentations were reflective of the girls own experiences, which led to such high engagement and performance, even virtually. We provide a space of consistent communication of high expectations, while providing equitable access to STEM education for students from all cultures."
In addition to summer camp and monthly activities, which are all offered free-of-charge, participants of Self-eSTEM engage in special events throughout the year, such as “Bonding Over Brunch,” which was hosted in Wurster Hall at UC Berkeley earlier in January and offered 50+ girls an opportunity to learn about UX design and connect with each other.
"When I was growing up, I never got to experience a whole teaching staff who looked like me and does STEM/Environmental Design for a living. Self-eSTEM offers young folks the ability to see that sort of future, and imagine themselves as part of it," says Jessie Wesley, who has also been volunteering with the organization over the years.
"Self-eSTEM also gives volunteers the opportunity to give back and encourage young girls that they can do math, that they are enough, and to tell them how their creativity is needed for the future of STEM…My favorite thing about interacting with the girls are the questions they ask. They challenge me to think about how my profession can and should evolve for a better future."
CED’s involvement in the Virtual STEM Exploration Camp builds on the STEM Partner Award, which was awarded to Associate Professor of City & Regional Planning Karen Trapenberg Frick, College of Environmental Design Students of Color (CEDSOC), and Low Income/first Generation Students (LIFGen) in 2019 for their work with Self-eSTEM.
UC Berkeley’s participation in this year’s camp was made possible with support from the student organizations CEDSOC and Planning Students Association (PSA) with special thanks to David Hernández García, UC Berkeley alumni, and students from the College of Environmental Design, the College of Engineering, and other STEM-related colleges across campus.
(Photo on the right: Student colleagues volunteered as class facilitators and mentors. Clockwise from top left: Tara Montgomery, Sharifa Taylor, Sharae Gibbs (founder of She Designs), Maya Price, Shushan Tesfuzigta, and Erika Foster)