Camp opens a world of STEM to girls

Students listen as the concept behind algae as a fuel is explained at the New Mexico Consortium. Photo by Louisa Belian

When I first heard about the Los Alamos National Laboratory Physics Camp for Young Women, I was immediately interested because opportunities to gain experience in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, especially in high school, can be scarce. And from a young age, harmful stereotypes often can teach young girls that STEM careers are mostly for males.

The LANL Physics Camp for Young Women is a two-week-long program during which young women in grades eight through 12 from across Northern New Mexico are exposed to different aspects of STEM fields. Some of the topics covered in this most recent camp, for example, included wave physics, electromagnetism and computer programming. Field trips to the New Mexico Consortium Biolab and various LANL facilities also gave us a glimpse of prospective careers, as well as the different ways in which science is being applied to solve the world’s problems.

On the first day of the physics camp, the girls were asked which gender they associated with certain careers. Astronauts, doctors, biologists, mathematicians and engineers were associated with men, while housekeepers and nurses were associated with women. By the end of the end of the camp, however, after hearing from female astrophysicists, physicists, engineers, programmers and many other talented women in STEM fields, every girl had a female role model to look up to. That’s why this camp is so significant.

For most of my life, I was adamant in pursuing a career in the medical field. I wanted to save lives and study the human body more than anything. While I still do, my experiences at this camp have opened my eyes to other paths in STEM. In addition, getting to work with other girls in high school also interested in STEM fields was incredible: Not only did I hear about dream jobs I didn’t even know existed and jobs I’d never considered for myself, but I made a genuine connection with many of the girls at the program and saw just how influential the program was on them.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the camp was the encouragement we received. We were told to not be shy, not be afraid of making mistakes and that not understanding something was OK. For a group of girls going through a stage of life in which many of us often are insecure, this encouragement gave us the confidence to enter STEM fields and believe that we can do something to change the world.

Niveditha Bala will be a sophomore at Mandela International Magnet School. Contact her at

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