In 2014, WeTech launched Qcamp for Girls in STEM in partnership with Qualcomm®, San Diego Unified School District and UC Berkeley. Qcamp is designed to create a space for long-term engagement in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) education for middle school girls in a creative, hands-on environment. Housed in Thinkabit Lab™, thirty Qcampers are encouraged to be creative, curious and try new things as they learn STEM fundamentals in a supportive environment.
A major part of creating the supportive environment of Qcamp are the counselors. To quote one Qcamper "Qcamp is like a sisterhood" and Saura and Vanessa are the guiding forces within that sisterhood. We interviewed Vanessa Myers to learn more.
WeTech: Tell us about your background. Where did you study? How did you get involved with Qualcomm® and Thinkabit Lab™?
Vanessa Myers: I graduated from UC San Diego with a B.S. in Mathematics, then went on to San Diego State University to get my teaching credential and taught high school math for 5 years with San Diego Unified School District. During my time at UCSD, I worked at Knock Around Summer Camp and continued to spend my summers there for 7 years. I was also involved in Math for America, a program based out of UCSD designed to get better math teachers into our schools. I first heard about QCamp through one of the directors from Math for America who recruited me to the QCamp planning committee because of my extensive camp background. Before coming to Qualcomm® for these initial meetings I had no idea what Qualcomm® did as a company even though I have lived in San Diego my entire life and driven past the buildings countless times.
WT: Why did you get involved with Thinkabit Lab™?
VM: After spending several months helping to plan the camp, I asked to become one of the counselors so I could continue to help with the camp and see what Qualcomm thing was all about. After the two week camp was over, I asked if I could stick around over the next few weeks to help with other projects and further my own understanding of Arduino. I kept coming back and Saura let me join Tinkering nights on Thursdays where I got to meet more engineers and help more students program Arduino.
WT: Did you have any experiences at a young age that motivated you to pursue a career in STEM?
VM: Part of me would like to say that I never had any motivators in STEM, but I continually forget that Math is the M in STEM and that much of my childhood was centered around math. One instance that stands out is a Math Olympiad that I competed in 5th grade where I really got to put my skills to the test. I decided at a relatively young age that I wanted to be an engineer, but never had any real exposure to engineering until college and at that point I was so overwhelmed by it all that I ended up switching from a Mechanical Engineering major to a Math major. I really wish I had experienced a program like this when I was younger to get me that exposure and start me coding at a younger age.
WT: What about your work inspires you?
VM: The students inspire me. Their creativity and ingenuity surprises me every day and makes me [look forward to] the next class so I can see what they come up with. I love learning new things and often learn from the students. It’s also really fun and inspiring to problem solve right along with them. This summer at QCamp I showed them a project I was working on and asked for their help and several gave suggestions that [resulted] in a better product than what I had originally created.
WT: Are there any unique experiences that Qcamp offers?
VM: QCamp offers a unique experience to me as a counselor because I get to be both a teacher and a camp counselor at the same time. I can laugh and play and be silly with these girls and then get into the lab and teach them how to code and help them create amazing projects. There is also a unique bond that happens over the two weeks and that strengthened in this second year, and that is the sisterhood amongst the girls and the big sister role that we as counselors get to play.
WT: What are some areas of growth that you’ve seen in the Qcampers?
VM: The QCampers have definitely grown over the past year, many in height, but mostly in their coding abilities. Although not everyone had access to Arduino over the past year, all were significantly better at coding this year than last year. They also seemed more eager to learn more and build on their base knowledge. Another area of growth was in their confidence, both in discussing code and plans for their project and in the presentations of their projects.
WT: What are some of your hopes for the future of women in STEM?
VM: Obviously I’d like to see more women in STEM, the question is how to get there. While this program and others like it are awesome, there needs to be continued support of these girls throughout high school and college. Speaking from experience, I was turned off in college when I struggled through my first coding class and didn’t have anybody to really explain it to me. I’d like to see recent graduates looking back and helping those who are in the thick of it.
WT: What are three pieces of advice that you would give to a young woman interested in pursuing a career in STEM?
- Ask for help when you need it. You can’t expect to know all the answers all the time
- Make friends in your classes, boys or girls, and study with them. You will all benefit
- Don’t let stereotypes stand in your way, any gender can do any job, follow your passion.
Thank you to Vanessa and all of the dedicated staff that helped to make this year's Qcamp a success. For more on Qcamp check out this blog post featured in Qualcomm's OnQ Blog or visit our Facebook page.