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Today is our last full day in Orange County. I knew our time here was coming to an end, but I didn’t realize how quickly it would happen. On the drive this morning to Girls Inc. all I could think was how in 24 hours I would be on the way to the airport to go home.

I’ve been trying to reflect on the past eight weeks. A lot has happened since I got to California on June 14th. I’ve made a lot of new friends, learned about what goes on behind the scenes at nonprofits, taught STEM to over 100 middle and high school girls, and experienced living on the opposite coast. I’ve learned a lot about myself, the Orange County community, and the power of a STEM education.

Coming into this program, I was most worried about being able to stand in front of a classroom of students and teach. I have always considered myself to be a relatively bad presenter, and the thought of presenting three hours of science every day for four weeks was really scary. Through camp, I gained a lot of confidence in my abilities to facilitate and to inspire girls to consider STEM as a career.

The last day of camp reminded me why I chose this program: I wanted to give girls the kind of STEM education that I wished I could have had. I am very lucky to have grown up in an area with a great public school system, but I still feel as though my science education was lacking. Keeping girls interested in STEM is so incredibly important, and when classes at school aren’t doing that, supplementary education, such as camp, is even more important. In low-income areas, these kinds of camps are usually not plausible, but Girls Inc. caters to this group by providing scholarships to many of its campers. The organization also provides lunch and a snack to all girls everyday. Campers get to go on amazing field trips to places like California Adventure Park, hear incredible speakers, and participate in a wide range of activities.

Throughout camp, I kept thinking to myself how I wish I had gone to this kind of camp. Navigating my way through high school as a woman passionate about science was hard. It wasn’t until I got to Duke and had so many amazing female professors doing research in science that I realized the importance of mentors. I didn’t even think I could go into a research career until college because I never learned about women in research. I often think about how if I struggled with maintaining an interest in STEM and seeing myself having a career in STEM, it must be immensely more challenging for girls in lower income areas with worse schools.

That is why this program appealed to me so much. I saw myself in my campers when they told me they weren’t learning about women in STEM in school and when I saw their hesitance to view STEM as a career path.

I hope that I have helped tear down those obstacles for all of the campers, and that they all follow their passions, whether or not they are STEM related. Regardless of what they choose, they are walking away from camp with the knowledge that they are strong, smart, and bold, and that they can do anything they set their minds to.