STEM camp for middle-school girls coming

KAPAA — Giving young women on Kauai the opportunity to explore new avenues of learning is the mission behind Excite Camp.

“Our purpose is to encourage all young ladies,” said Mapu Quitazol, program manager for Women in Technology, the organization hosting the camp.

Excite Camp will be held July 25 to 28 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The camp is free and open to 24 middle-school girls. Lunch and snacks will be provided at the camp, at Kapaa Middle School.

The primary goal of the camp is to expose middle-school students, specifically young women, to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. It is only for middle-school girls who have an interest in expanding their critical thinking process while having fun.

“We try to encourage them and let them know when you go through and are in a professional setting in engineering, you don’t have an encouragement but you need to know you can do it,” Quitazol said. “It’s all about building confidence in yourself.”

Teaching students about the importance of STEM, especially at such a young age, opens up doors for future ties, as new positions are opening up in the fields of science and technology, she said.

For 17 years, Excite Camp has been a fixture on Maui, and is making its way toward the Garden Isle for the first time as part of a grant from the Career Technical Education system of the University of Hawaii.

Quitazol said that Women in Technology tried to bring the camp to Kauai last year, but only had four girls sign up, which led them to cancel it. But Quitazol is determined to bring this opportunity to young girls on Kauai, and already has eight girls participating.

“Kauai is always a slow sign-up,” Quitazol said. “But the week of the workshop, there’s always a big increase in applications or walk-ins, but we can’t do walk-ins for this camp because we’re trying to keep it small.”

Keeping numbers small for the camp is crucial, said Quitazol.

“It’s kept to a small group of 24 (maximum),” she said. “We like to keep it small due to the hands-on activities that we do. It’s all about exciting them and encouraging them into STEM. All the activities are hands-on and they learn how to collaborate working in pairs or in a group.”

Quitazol just completed the 17th annual Excite Camp on Maui this past Friday, where 16 girls participated. She said that eight of the 16 girls said afterwards that they felt encouraged to pursue a career in the STEM field.

“And that’s just great, that’s exactly what we want to hear,” she said. “But on the flipside, being in middle school and as they grow older, being in engineering is really hard when you don’t have a support system.”

Excite Camp strives to be that support system.

“You’re always going to come across someone that will always tell you that you cannot,” Quitazol said. “It’s very important for them to hear that early on and not get discouraged by that.”

Kauai High School representatives are bringing their digital media program materials to the camp to show what they’re doing, while the other two days will focus on structural design and different types of engineering.

“We want to show them digital media on the island,” Quitazol said.

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