EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — About 30 eighth-grade girls sat wide-eyed Wednesday as they heard from women working as pilots, engineers and air traffic controllers at the William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center.
When they asked how many of air-traffic controller Renee Zapf’s colleagues were women, she did not demure.
“It’s low. I’m not going to lie,” said Zapf, 30, of Hammonton. “They’re working on it. We need you ladies to step up and do your part.”
The weeklong Tech Trek camp hosted by Stockton University and the American Association of University Women encourages girls to pursue STEM careers, where they are severely underrepresented.
In all, 62 girls from all over the state participated in the camp, where they immersed themselves in science experiments and workshops.
“I want to be a chemist,” said Caroline Endicott, 13, of Somers Point.
She wanted to attend the camp because she liked the message it sent.
“I learned binary code, and I’m good at it,” Endicott said.
The girls all had different goals for their future in STEM-related fields. Mariana Santiago, 12, of Bridgeton, said she hopes to be a baker, where math and chemistry play a big role.
Mikayla Evans, 13, of Millville, said she wants to be math teacher. Mei McGarvey, 13, of Port Republic, aspires to be an architect.
STEM jobs are growing rapidly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 8.6 million STEM jobs in 2015. Many of these jobs are paying double the national average for non-STEM jobs, according to a BLS report.
In 2009, women were 48 percent of the workforce and 24 percent of the STEM workforce in the United States, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Linda Harmon, president of the Atlantic County chapter of the AAUW, citing Journal of Science research, said by eighth grade, girls are making a choice — conscious or unconscious — whether to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering or math.
“And by the end of high school, fewer girls than boys plan to pursue STEM in college. AAUW Atlantic County supports every effort to reverse this long standing trend,” Harmon said.
Tech Trek camp aims to push more women toward the STEM fields.
“In my group, I’m the only female engineer,” Danielle Stephens, an aerospace engineer from Mays Landing, told the girls.
Stephens, 32, said she always liked the challenge and sense of accomplishment when solving a math or science problem. Getting used to the lack of females in the field was something she had to get used to.
Dr. Christina Young works in industrial engineering at the Technical Center. She said it was in college that she noticed the lack of diversity in the STEM fields. She said women will be underestimated in the field typically reserved for men.
“It’s really important to have confidence in what you bring to the table,” she said. “Stand up for yourself and others.”