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Qualcomm® Thinkabit Lab™ and the Association of American University Women Expand Tech Trek Nationwide

By Dr. Gloria Banuelos, Thinkabit Lab Lead, Qualcomm

Published 09-08-21

Submitted by Qualcomm Inc.

STEM student works on a technology project

This summer, the Qualcomm® Thinkabit Lab™ expanded its seven-year collaboration with the American Association of University Women (AAUW) to provide summer camps focused on engineering to more girls around the country. In partnership with Thinkabit Lab, AAUW's Tech Trek summer program engaged more than 200 girls living in California. This inspired AAUW in Florida, New Mexico, and Washington to pilot the Thinkabit Lab Wearable Tech project in their Tech Trek camps this summer.

AAUW’s mission over the last century has been to encourage girls to enter STEM fields. In 1998, AAUW of California founded their Tech Trek program, which offers girls entering the 8th grade from rural and urban backgrounds an opportunity to attend week-long science and math camps on local college and university campuses. Starting in 2014, the Tech Trek summer camp at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) divided students into smaller core activities, and each year the Thinkabit Lab hosts a Wearable Tech invention camp for the participants. In 2020, with the advent of COVID-19, the UCSD Tech Trek camp was offered as a virtual summer camp. The online program has since expanded nationwide, serving more than 650 girls with this unique opportunity.

The Tech Trek program taps into AAUW’s vast network of members to facilitate these camps. Girls have access to coaches that include professors, forensic scientists, and retired engineers, as well as near-peers such as past Tech Trek participants in high school and college. Every year, a variety of speakers from the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) participate and prove to be an important aspect of the summer program, enabling students to learn more about people in STEM and meet other women in the world of STEM to learn about their experiences. Exposure to diverse women in STEM inspires girls to see themselves as trailblazers. For many, being in an environment of all-female peers, near-peers, and instructors/coaches grants them a sense of confidence and community.

The Qualcomm and AAUW collaboration engages middle school girls in the world of STEM through career exploration and hands-on engineering summer programs. Through the Wearable Tech project, campers have explored circuitry, engineering, and programming by designing wearable tech that represents their strengths, interests, and values. Participants can ground the challenging coding and engineering content in their own unique wearable. Most, if not all, participants are coding for the very first time.

Since the inception of our collaboration, we have engaged with third-party evaluators to measure program impact and outcomes. Across the board, participants’ confidence has had a statistically significant increase in:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • The pursuit of advanced courses in high school
  • The pursuit of careers in coding and programming
  • Collaboration
  • Use of the engineering design process
blue pen on a notebook next to some tech

There were unique challenges around the world as we adjusted to the COVID-19 global health crisis. Schools and education programs faced critical obstacles in adapting to a virtual learning environment. As a program working directly with schools, districts, and universities, the Thinkabit Lab found itself pivoting right alongside its national sites and collaborations with nonprofit organizations such as AAUW. With pilot programs in Florida, New Mexico and Washington that launched this summer, AAUW Tech Trek expanded the opportunity for over 60 rising 8th and 9th grade girls to attend the virtual robotics camps.

Dr. Gloria Banuelos, Thinkabit Lab Lead
Dr. Gloria Banuelos, Thinkabit Lab Lead

The prospect of maintaining an optional virtual model for future summer sessions using the Wearable Tech project may prove to be key in addressing accessibility and the STEM achievement gap by bringing the program to even more girls nationwide.

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