Broadening her horizons at space science camp
Woodford County High School student Matti Springate viewed Space Trek as an opportunity to participate in a weeklong camp that empowers young Kentucky women in STEM - science, technology, engineering and math. More specifically, Space Trek was a chance for Matti to get hands-on experience in the basics of aerospace engineering and broaden her horizons beyond a lifelong desire to become a lawyer like her dad, Jim Springate. "I really like science," says Matti, who begins her sophomore year at WCHS next week, "but I never really thought that I could pursue a career in STEM because I just didn't think that it would be something I'd be really good at." Her perceptions changed at Space Trek. Building an electronic device to demonstrate principals of circuits and components, and building a small satellite - CricketSat - with her mission team allowed Matti to see how much she liked aerospace engineering. More importantly, those hands-on experiences showed her that she could pursue a STEM career if she desires. Admittedly, Matti didn't already have a strong background in aerospace engineering, but was confident she could "go after it . because of the ways my teachers taught me." Advanced classes at WCHS helped prepare her for the rigors of learning alongside 21 other high school students, many of whom were one or two grades ahead of her. The rising sophomores, juniors and seniors - invited to Space Trek after a selection process including a teacher recommendation - learned in labs at Morehead State University's state-of-the-art space science center, from July 9 to 16. In addition to working alongside their lab partners, participants were always able to ask questions to camp mentors, who each had strong engineering backgrounds. "It was intense," says Matti. She and the other Space Trek students stayed in dorm rooms on Morehead State's campus during a weeklong experience - highlighted by the launches of their CricketSats using high-altitude balloons. Each mission team collected data on the temperature at different altitudes before presenting those and other findings plus an overview focused on the mechanics of the CricketSat to "a group of really important people at the space science center," including its director, Dr. Ben Malphrus, and "other insanely intelligent professors," says Matti, 14. ".So there was a lot of pressure, but we were very well-prepared." While Matti still views herself as a social studies-English person, she says her experiences at Space Trek taught her that she can be a science or math person if she chooses to pursue those areas of study in college. "She needs to go out and try different things so that she can make up her own mind about what she wants to do," says her dad, Versailles attorney Jim Springate. "Even if I don't go into a STEM field," adds Matti, "(my experiences at Space Trek) definitely empowered me a lot." She knows many young women don't feel confident in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. Space Trek empowered her, and she's now encouraging her friends and their younger siblings to participate so they can become self-confident in pursuing a STEM career if they choose. After being mentored by professional women who have been successful in those careers, Matti knows women can excel in STEM careers historically filled by men. Space Trek was created in 2012 as a pilot program through a partnership between Morehead State and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Kentucky, which works to advance "equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy and research." As a member of the AAUW Bluegrass Central Branch, Versailles resident Nancy Dicken supports Space Trek because of its focus on science, technology, engineering and math as fields of study for young women in Kentucky. "They haven't really been historically encouraged to go into those fields, and lots of (these young women) have had some reservations about taking advanced math courses or taking advanced science courses," explains Dicken. "So we have been really trying to encourage them to (take those courses) because there are good jobs in those fields." She says her local AAUW branch sponsors a daylong event that brings in STEM professionals to speak with middle school girls about their careers, while also encouraging the girls to consider career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math.