A dozen high school girls from throughout Hawaii are shooting for the STARS this summer.
A weeklong space and science summer camp for high school females, the STEM Aerospace Research Scholars Program, known as STARS, kicked off Monday.
First launched in 2014 by the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, the program aims to introduce the students to careers in science, technology, engineering and math, and successful women who work in them.
Kyla Edison, materials science and geology technician for PISCES, said the program started small but has grown since its inception.
“We are doing this because females are underrepresented in STEM and science,” she said. “… In my experience, when I was in college and taking science classes, I was one of the few females in class.”
The biggest issue, though, is the lack of encouragement for girls when they are interested in science, Edison said.
“Or, if they are wanting to do it, they don’t have the confidence, and they’re not feeling like they are as competent as their male counterparts, or they have a hard time getting into science.” she continued. “This program is designed to show them not only (can they be) scientists and engineers and can be good at math, but let’s show you the successful females that are already in science.”
In the past, Edison said, the program had a heavy astronomy focus, but during the past two years, STARS expanded.
This year, it includes navigation activities, tours of telescope headquarters and the actual telescopes, overnight excursions to Hale Pohaku on Maunakea and a Mars simulation habitat located on Mauna Loa, a guided hike to learn about geology and volcanology, and a visit to the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in West Hawaii.
Hawaii Island is perfect for this program “because there’s all kinds of different science, and there’s plenty of female scientists here,” Edison said. “And so we tell them if these women can do it, then you can do it. Here are the resources you need to get into science, here’s an idea of what each science is like … .
“… Science isn’t just for boys. Math is not (just) for boys. Engineering is not just for boys,” she added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re female, male, trans, whatever. Science is for everyone. There is no barrier.”
On Monday, the group visited ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.
With a mat representing a star compass spread out on the floor, Kalepa Baybayan, ‘Imiloa’s navigator in residence, spoke to the group about oceanic navigation.
“We start with the navigation because we’re in Hawaii. We’re about to start talking about astronomy and you cannot start talking about astronomy in Hawaii without mentioning the ancient Hawaiians and how they navigated … and so it kind of gets them into the groove of getting ready for their week.”
Baybayan said his daughter is a navigator, too, “so I have a vested interest in making sure that girls have opportunities. That’s all this is about — exposing them to a side that values indigenous knowledge through the scientific process, that we humans have a way to figure things out, (and) understand the science and traditional knowledge.”
Sarah Gauthier, 15, who will be a junior at Hilo High School in the fall, heard about the program and thought it was a “cool opportunity, especially since it’s aimed specifically for women …”
She wants to work with major science companies but said she wants to stay “more on the public relations side of it, and so I think learning about all the things that go into all the work they do is going to help me better understand (in the future).
Coral Richardson, 15, is heading into her junior year at Kealakehe High School. She wanted to join the program to see what opportunities are available on the Big Island, “and especially hear from female scientists that are working on our island.”
“I’m unsure of what I want to study exactly, but i feel like people here can be an inspiration to me,” she said.
Coral said hearing from female scientists can help young women succeed.
Sarah said having female role models in science, as opposed to only male role models “gives you an idea that you can get into that field and that there are people like you trying to get into that field and that when you do join, you won’t be the only woman there.”
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