AAUW girl on her way to Tech Trek
PIEZOELECTRICITY Tech Trek student Rebecca Palubicki explains how to create electricity at the 2024 Climate Fest in the Healdsburg Plaza. (Photo by Karla Rosen)

By Anna-Laura Jansma and Carol Clurman

Eight Northern Sonoma County seventh-grade girls will soon be off to college. No, they’re not highly precocious teenagers skipping out on their secondary school education. They are academically curious kids headed to Sonoma State University for Tech Trek, a unique, weeklong summer camp for girls eager to learn more about their favorite subjects—science, engineering, math and technology, known as STEM. 

Best of all, with the help of Healdsburg sponsors and donors, the camps are totally free for these local girls.

CLIMATE FEST AAUW sponsored area middle school students in STEM education projects, like this one at the Healdsburg Climate Fest, April 21, 2024.

The 12- and 13-year-olds, all from area public middle schools, were selected by the Healdsburg branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which sponsors the program along with its sister organization, the Tech Trek Alumnae Group (TTAG).

Part of a nationwide program, Tech Trek has been inspiring young girls who often feel marginalized in subjects historically dominated by boys. This year, nearly 1,000 girls from across California will live on nine college campuses for the weeklong camp. 

Locally, eight girls from Cali Calmécac, Geyserville Middle School, Healdsburg Junior High, Washington School and Windsor Middle School will attend Tech Trek at SSU in June. The community will have an opportunity to meet this year’s class of selected girls, and previous “Trekkies” and advisors, on Tuesday, May 14, at Healdsburg Regional Library, from 6:15 to 7:30pm.

Established in 1999, AAUW’s Tech Trek boasts a rich legacy of nurturing talent, breaking barriers and cultivating a supportive community for young women with an interest in and aptitude for STEM pursuits. Settled in campus dorms, the girls embark on an immersive seven-day, dawn-to-dusk journey.

They delve into hands-on workshops and activities, from coding their own applications, constructing robots and launching rockets, to building massive supported structures out of newspaper. And they gain inspiration and insights from distinguished female industry leaders like astrophysicist Mary Barsony, while forging invaluable bonds with friends and mentors.

Rebecca Palubicki, 16, a former Washington Middle School student in Cloverdale who now attends California Connections and is a Tech Trek camp counselor, summed up what many girls discover when they attend Tech Trek and meet successful women role models like physicists and astronomers, by saying, “That could be me!”

The impact of the program extends far beyond girls’ week as campers. The TTAG alumnae group serves as an ongoing conduit for girls’ engagement in STEM subjects throughout their school years. The girls aim to pass the torch to their successors through special events and activities that run the gamut.


PIEZOELECTRICITY Tech Trek student Rebecca Palubicki explains how to create electricity at the 2024 Climate Fest in the Healdsburg Plaza. (Photo by Diane Meyers)

Recent examples include showcasing piezoelectricity as a clean, renewable energy source at last month’s Climate Fest in Healdsburg, a field trip to Robert Ferguson Observatory in Kenwood and an ice cream social.

Guided by AAUW advisors, TTAG  helps cultivate leadership and teamwork skills, nurture academic prowess, instill a commitment to community service—and create lasting friendships. 

Healdsburg High senior and TTAG co-president Alissa Sommer, 17, credits Tech Trek with her decision to pursue STEM as a career. She plans to study ecology and climate studies at Vanderbilt University this fall.

Interactive activities of Tech Trek and TTAG ensure that STEM remains alive and accessible to campers at an age when social trends show a decline in girls’ interest and participation. 

Tech Trek graduates outpace the national average in most advanced math and science coursework, and notably, 77% of Tech Trek alumni completed precalculus during high school compared to 37% nationwide. Some 90% pursue STEM majors in college.

The Tech Trekker Meet and Greet on May 14 at the Healdsburg Library offers parents and girls the chance to meet the other Tech Trekkers and Tech Trek alumnae. They will answer questions and share their experiences. Light refreshments will be served.

Anna-Laura Jansma is co-coordinator of the AAUW Healdsburg Tech Trek selection committee. Carol Clurman is AAUW publicity coordinator.

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