First-Year Med Student Starts Her Own STEM Camp

A first-year med student at Central Michigan University is helping young girls in Detroit work toward a future in STEM.

Madeline PalmerFirst-year med student Madeline Palmer might not have a ton of spare time. But she knows there’s a shortage of girls in STEM fields and she wants to help, so she and a friend started a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) camp for Detroit Public School girls.

Palmer, who recently finished her first year at Central Michigan University’s College of Medicine and co-founded STEMpowered, Inc., says the camp gives girls the opportunity to learn about STEM through interactive activities, field trips, and demonstrations. They are also paired with a personal mentor to conduct their own experiments, which are presented on the final day of camp at the STEM Fair. The girls are able to attend the camp on a 100% scholarship thanks to about 40 donors.

Earlier this summer, CMU conducted the following Q&A with Palmer regarding her incredible efforts.

What is your major?

Medical student at CMU College of Medicine.

What is your yearly standing?

Finishing M1 (first year of medical school).

What is your hometown?

Birmingham, MI.

What are you doing this summer?

This summer, I will be directing a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) camp for fourth- and fifth-grade Detroit Public School girls. Thanks to local business contributions and private donors, all of our campers will be on 100% scholarship.

The camp is being hosted by STEMpowered, Inc, a non-profit I co-founded in the fall of 2013. At STEMpowered, we aim to foster the natural scientific and mathematical curiosity of young girls in Detroit. Women are unequally represented in the STEM fields and we know this is not due to unequal abilities. Our campers, and all girls, deserve encouragement, opportunity and the empowering belief that their potential has no limit. During our weeklong camp sessions, campers will have the opportunity to explore their own interests in an interactive and exciting environment. Daily activities will include local field trips, hands-on demonstrations, and guest speakers who will highlight the wide range of women and careers in STEM fields. We will also enjoy crafts, games, and summer camp fun.

During the week, pairs of students will conduct their own experiments with the guidance of a personal mentor, and will present their findings on the final day of camp at our STEM Fair.

How did you get this opportunity?

This project began when I read a study out of the University of Wisconsin in the fall of 2013. I was not surprised by the findings, but it did spark an idea that allowed me to combine volunteering in Detroit and empowering young women. The study demonstrated that by the time children reach third grade, boys and girls are equally as competent in math but girls are, on average, one-half as confident. I think this problem is pervasive in our country but is exacerbated by circumstances in Detroit.

My good friend Erika had just moved to downtown Detroit and is equally as passionate about empowering young women and working in the city. Never afraid to get a little dirty or to compete with our brothers, we both became interested in math and science at a young age. We fostered our love of these subjects throughout our lives, whether it was playing with LEGOs or exploring nature. Despite a supportive and enriching environment, we each faced our own challenges as women who thrived in these areas and saw many of our peers lose their confidence and, eventually, their interest in these fields. We believe that young girls everywhere deserve the same educational opportunities and we are excited to bring this camp to Detroit.

Erika and I have teamed up to make this happen, and with the help of some new connections formed in the city, we were able to get a good amount of seed money. Specifically, Big Boy is helping in multiple ways, not just with donations but also by providing food during camp and T-shirts for our campers.

Since then, the project has really taken off. We started an IndieGoGo campaign* that is currently 93% funded from over 40 different donors. Detroit Public Schools are very excited about our project and have allowed us to present to their science and technology teachers who are nominating students for this experience. We have received a lot of e-mails from women in the STEM fields who are excited about presenting to our campers, volunteering, or helping out in any way they can.

We also have had close friends who are teachers help us build our curriculum, and my friends at CMED have done anything they can to help. Our Student Affairs faculty has also been wonderful and, specifically, Charmica Abonijar has offered very helpful support and advice.

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

I have always loved science and I am excited to learn from the kids' enthusiasm and curiosity. I also hope to learn more about the challenges current students of Detroit face as they work to pursue STEM careers. As a future physician, I am interested in education and I am excited about learning more about our campers' experiences and goals. I know they will have as much to teach us as we do them!

*STEMpowered's IndieGoGo campaign ended on June 15 having surpassed its funding goal.

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