When it comes to women in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, there is an obvious shortage. In fact, women only make up about 30 percent of the STEM workforce.
While there are national campaigns to eliminate the shortage, there is also a big push happening on the Texas A&M University campus.
The first Thomas Gaddis Girls’ STEM Camp was held this summer, providing 60 middle school girls the chance to get hands-on experience in different STEM areas. The camp is named in honor of the late Thomas Gaddis, a mathematics teacher. Gaddis was known for promoting math among his female students, which was not common at the time.
After Gaddis passed away, his daughter, Sandy Wilkinson, got a small look at the impact her father had on his students. Even though he was retired for more than 20 years, she received 350 letters from his former students. One changed everything.
The letter was from one of Gaddis’ Algebra I students in 1974. It read, “In the 70s, math and science were encouraged for boys but not so much for girls. When Mr. Gaddis saw my abilities in math and science, he encouraged it… his encouragement contributed to me achieving one of the highest scores on the SAT in high school, in math, in the late 70s. This score was seen by the commander of the NJROTC program who asked me if I wanted a scholarship to the Naval Academy.”
“I read the letter and went to sleep. I literally woke up in the middle of the night and said ‘I have to do a girls STEM camp.’ The man upstairs told me I had to do this,” explained Wilkinson.
Not long after, Wilkinson contacted the Texas A&M Foundation to start the process of establishing the camp. Those talks led her to Drs. Robert and Mary Margaret Capraro, co-project directors of Aggie STEM. The Capraros were excited about the opportunity and got right to work.
“It is important to get community involvement and to get a solid understanding of what STEM education and STEM literacy is in the broad context,” Dr. Robert Capraro said. “By bringing the latest STEM advances to the public, we hope schools and teachers will receive the attention they need to garner greater resources to improve K-12 education.”
Wilkinson and her husband founded an engineering services company in the Dallas area. Each summer, students visit the company headquarters to learn about various products created in the engineering field. The goal is to get the students excited about STEM. To Wilkinson, partnering with AggieSTEM is an extension of that on a larger scale.
The camp is offered to girls in 6th through 8th grade. Wilkinson believes it is important to get girls involved and excited about math and science at an early age.
“We want to reach girls early about STEM options so when they begin high school they can start on the right track in order to be better prepared for STEM majors at top tier universities like Texas A&M,” added Katherine Vela, STEM camp director.
Wilkinson also pushed for an all-girls camp because she wanted them to find their voice without the influence of boys.
“It’s just not something being promoted among women. Women think differently than men – not bad, not good, just different. They bring a different aspect to engineering that I believe is important.”
Wilkinson has big dreams for the camp. She wants to adopt a school each year, raise the money and bring students in that school to camp. She also wants to open the camp to teachers in the districts so they can learn STEM and teach it to others.
About the Gaddis Girls’ STEM Camp
The Gaddis Girls’ STEM Camp was made possible by gifts from Sandy ’86 and Michael ’86 Wilkinson, Malcolm Stewart and High Tech High Heels through the Texas A&M Foundation. To learn how you can support similar efforts in the College of Education and Human Development, contact:
Jody Ford ’99, Director of Development, Texas A&M Foundation
This story by Ashley Green originally appeared in Transform Lives.