Students experience science, engineering first-hand

Published July 27, 2018

It was more a plea than question.

“Did you forget a decimal point?” Jill Zwiep asked her fellow team member.

One decimal point isn’t much, but it could have made a huge difference in how far the group’s Gravity Car traveled in the Hall of Science Building. The future engineers were testing various mechanisms of a paper and wood car propelled by the weight of pennies and adjusted their numbers so their car moved more freely.

Zwiep was among seven girls who registered for the Physical Sciences Institute for High School Girls, a two-week camp designed to address the large gender difference in the number of women who pursue degrees in the physical sciences and engineering. The camp, sponsored by the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, is for incoming high school students.

According to Dr. Laura Henriques of the Science Education Department, women earn 60 percent of college degrees in the United States, but less than 20 percent of physics and engineering degrees are awarded to female graduates.

The Physical Sciences Institute, sponsored by Fluor Corporation, targets girls entering high school in an effort to engage them before they make college decisions. It has been shown that many more girls enroll in life sciences than physical sciences.

Zwiep already had her mind made up before signing up for the camp. She will be attending Sato Academy, a math and science school in Long Beach, and plans on majoring in engineering when she gets to college. She called the camp “really important.”

Maggie Pickett, of Marina High School in Huntington Beach, said she has “always been into science and stuff.” The daughter Long Beach State astronomy and physics professor Galen T. Pickett, said she is interested in studying marine biology or engineering.

The group’s other member was Penelope Hernandez, who also is entering Sato Academy, has been attending the Physical Sciences Institute camp for the past seven years.

“It helps me establish the skills that will help me and enables me to see which field I want to go into,” Hernandez said. 

The camp provides an all-female physical science experience – female students, female faculty and female pre-service physics teachers. The goal is to increase confidence and competence in physical science and provide awareness of career and college options in physical science and engineering fields.

The College of Education held a STEM camp for underrepresented youth, also sponsored by Fluor. STEM at The Beach is a weeklong day camp for children entering the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades at Title I middle schools in the Long Beach Unified School District, as well as ABC Unified School District.

The math-based camp enabled 31 students to design rockets and build robots among other activities that introduced them to STEM professions.

It also gave Long Beach State pre-service teachers with first-hand experience of working with children in an integrated STEM environment, a key component of California’s Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards for Mathematics.