Girl power – Camp gives students a look at science and career potential |

Girl power – Camp gives students a look at science and career potential

Vienna Saccomanno was 3 years old, and all she knew at the time was how she enjoyed playing in the dirt and learning the names of all the vegetables in her father’s garden.

She grew up helping her family expand the vegetable patch into a sprawling matrix of tomato, cucumber and pepper plants, with large fruit trees stretching to provide shade on her family’s two-acre Chicago Park expanse.

What she didn’t know then – and is only learning now, thanks to a week-long trip at Stanford University with five other local incoming eighth-graders – is that her experience in the garden, identifying, cultivating and eating the fruits of her labor, may propel her to a lifetime of scientific discovery.

Vienna just returned from “Tech Trek,” a seminar sponsored by the local branch of the American Association of University Women that empowers young women to discover their talents for science and the applied arts.

While at Stanford, the students boarded in the residence halls and spent time visiting with high-powered women in the science and technology fields. They also learned of career opportunities, conducted experiments and discovered a world about which many of their fellow students only dream.

“This made us feel like we were the next generation of scientists,” said Saccomanno, who is home-schooled and attends classes at Forest Charter School. “I enjoy science because it’s creative and challenging, and it’s never the same thing.”

The trip was organized by Pleasant Ridge Union assistant superintendent Linda Kramer, a member of the local chapter of the AAUW. To be considered, potential students were required to submit a letter and recommendations from teachers.

The AAUW helped defray the costs of the trip, in the hopes of sparking interest among students just discovering their talents and interests.

“Traditionally, the men tend to go for science and math in college,” said Saccomanno’s teacher, Simone Malboeuf, who recommended her pupil for the trip. “It’s good to see women as role models in this area.”

The students met top female animation designers from Pixar Animation Studios, Web designers, television reporters and executives from Silicon Valley technology firms.

Students brought home a treasure trove of information and projects designed during the trip. Saccomanno and fellow Nevada County students Ariel Ellis, Marie Kneemeyer, Collete Kallewe and Kathryn O’Neill learned how to construct a kaleidoscope and a necklace that, when exposed to ultraviolet rays, changes to reflect the colors of the sun.

One of the more intriguing projects included a solar oven. While it might look like a poor man’s Easy-Bake Oven, with tinfoil surrounding a simple pizza box, Saccomanno can melt chocolate bars for s’mores in mere minutes.

After the experience, Saccommano said she’s intrigued most by astronomy. She’d like to work for NASA one day – not necessarily as an astronaut, but one who helps educate them about the heavens above.

“You get so caught up in the material world,” she said, “and you look up and realize, that’s what life is all about.”

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