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CSULB brings homeless girls to campus

For many elementary and middle-school girls, a future career in engineering is not encouraged and sometimes not even presented as an option.

For homeless girls, the likelihood of an engineering career is even lower.

“The odds are just stacked against them,” Research Associate for the Office of Engineering Educational Research and Assessment Lily Gossage said. “So we decided to create this program for them.”

From Aug. 5 to 11, Cal State Long Beach is bringing girls from local homeless shelters to campus for the camp, “Engineering Girls — It Takes a Village.”

The weeklong camp is filled with engineering activities, including one in which the girls will build an underwater remotely operated vehicle that picks up rings from the bottom of a swimming pool.  They’ll also learn about prosthetic arms, chemical engineering and how to build PVC rockets. Throughout the camp, the girls will stay in the CSULB residence halls.

Gossage, who also serves as chair of the President’s Commission for the Status of Women at CSULB, came up with the idea for the camp after sponsoring a homeless family last December, and the numbers of children in Long Beach area shelters surprised her.

Currently, there are more than 220,000 homeless children in California, according to the National Center for Homeless Education.

Gossage has enlisted the help of 14 teachers in the Long Beach Unified School District along with several CSULB professors to help introduce the girls to different engineering concepts.

Several CSULB student organizations, many of which represent minority groups underserved in academic engineering programs, are also donating their time to the event.

“If you don’t see someone older like you doing what you want to do, you may not think it’s possible,” CSULB professor and volunteer Julie Rivera said. “Many of the girls at the camp are black, and they’re meeting professionals at the camp that look like them.”

Over the past few months, several sponsors have provided grants to fund the program, including California Chancellor’s Career Technical Education Pathway Initiative and the California Space Grant Consortium (CSGC).

Tehseen Lazzouni, assistant director of CSGC, said she was impressed by what Gossage had organized.

“She showed us the schedule she had planned, and it was really great,” Lazzouni said.    “There wouldn’t be any other program like it for these girls … It could really help encourage them to get into math and sciences.”

Gossage said that outreach to students in the past has been successful.  She started the Women’s Engineering Outreach Program in 2000, which helps to introduce girls from the fourth to ninth grades to STEM subjects.

Now adults, some of the same students are engineering majors, Gossage said.

“We want to teach them that engineering covers all sorts of work,” she said.  “No matter what they’re interested in, there’s probably something there for them.”

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