I just returned from a week on faculty at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts, one of our Reform movement’s summer camps. This three-year-old affinity camp that combines science and technology with Reform Jewish living and values is an amazing place that I have been blessed to be a part of from the very beginning. (Full disclosure, my wife Julie is the camp’s Camper Care Coordinator.)
During the past three years I have been awestruck by what a cool place Sci-Tech has become and the amazingly organic way in which Jewish values are seamlessly integrated with scientific inquiry. What struck me most this past week, however, is the special place that Sci-Tech has become for our girls. While the camp has grown three-fold in its short life, the number of female campers has increased four-fold. In a day and age when so many educators are focused on increasing the number of girls and women involved in STEM fields, Sci-Tech is just doing it!
This increase is due in no small part to the generosity of the Women of Reform Judaism who have provided scholarships to encourage girls to attend Sci-Tech. But is also the product of Sci-Tech itself and the inclusive atmosphere that Greg Kellner and his team have created. I saw this first hand this summer in the coding and programming workshop taught by lead instructor Kelly Fennessy.
Kelly is one of a number of female lead instructors who provide Sci-Tech girls with engaging role models of women involved in STEM. The atmosphere in Kelly’s workshop, like others at Sci-Tech, is one of inclusiveness, regular reference to Jewish values as guideposts, and enchanting moments of scientific discovery and achievement. In a classroom that was predominantly male and filled with some very experienced young coders, even the most inexperienced campers were made to feel comfortable and the two or three girls were not at all out of place.
As I helped out in Kelly’s workshop, one young girl excitedly asked me to try out her first Java program which she had coded only moments before. When it ran flawlessly, I was impressed and she was filled with the excitement of programming success. I asked her if she had ever coded in Java before and she said that this was her first time. Last summer, she said, she had come to Sci-Tech and learned to use Scratch to write her own video game. That experience inspired her to return to tackle Java coding and writing apps for Android. As she spoke, the joy was apparent in her voice and it brought a smile to my face. That moment alone encapsulated why Sci-Tech has become a place for bringing girl power to STEM.
But, on my last day at camp, there was another related moment that brought a similar smile to my face. Two girls from one of the other workshops I was covering were walking past me when I overheard one say to the other one of the “only at Sci-Tech” phrases we often hear around camp: “When I get my Doctorate…” It was said with the quiet confidence of one whose learned at camp that the sky is the limit and I can’t wait to hear of her future accomplishments and, perhaps, remember that I knew her when.