Space, the final frontier, an endless expanse just waiting for its mysteries to be uncovered.
This past August, thirty-four middle school girls from Los Angeles communities began their voyage at the Institute of Engineering Community and Cultural Competence (IEC3)’s summer camp, a STEM education and career development camp hosted by the USC outreach program in collaboration with Tata Consultancy. The camp was a five-day program full of guest speakers, workshops, and tours revolving around the JPL curriculum: Mission to Mars – Engineering the Tools to Scientific Discovery.
“It’s a tie-in with JPL and NASA’s mission Insight, which was the first mission launched from the west coast to study Mars’ atmosphere,” said Michelle Flowers Taylor, the founding director of IEC3. “We wanted to highlight the environmental uses of rocketry as a tool as well as the fact that 11% of space explorers in history are women.”
Students at the camp built paper and model rockets with their own personal designs informed by small engineering seminars to shape their unique model. In between workshops, they listened to speakers from the industry, including NASA astronaut and USC Viterbi professor, Garrett Reisman, and JPL Aerospace Engineer and Viterbi alumna, Jan Berkeley. Guest speakers talked on points ranging from career paths and workplace environments in the public and private sectors to the material science of the Mars Rover and the technical workings of a space suit.
To top it all off, students were given a chance to tour Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum and SpaceX’s facilities to get a look at both the past history and the present-day innovations in flight and space technology. The five-day camp wrapped with an inaugural launch of each student’s model rocket at STARBASE.
But for many students, the learning won’t stop there. Year-round, IEC3 offers parent workshops and girl empowerment events surrounding STEM education and engineering to continue fostering their growth within their communities and to bring in industry to introduce building solutions to real-world problems.
“It’s important to inform girls that these major changes are happening and to show them that they can do it—they can be a part of these great changes,” said Taylor.