HUNTERSVILLE — Walking through Duke Energy’s EnergyExplorium during spring break, Claire McClave, 8, and Sophie McClave, 5, squeal with delight as they point out elements on the periodic table and watch a demonstration about how nuclear power is created.
The Huntersville sisters are scientists in the making, happily drawing pictures of the solar system or making posters about the life of a star. So it’s apparent why their mother, Jennifer, enrolled them in the nonprofit Project Scientist Academy.
Girls, 4-12, can attend from one to five weeks of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics programming offered from June 23 to Aug. 8. Participants have hands-on experiments, talks with female STEM professionals and go on field trips. Plus there are physical education and artistic components. Sessions take place 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal School or Queens College.
Each week is dedicated to a different theme, including flight, physiology, energy, food production and technology. Sandy Marshall started the camp out of her guesthouse in 2011 because she felt there weren’t enough science-related programs for young girls. This year, it has expanded to the two locations to facilitate more than 200 girls over the five weeks. The National Science Foundation-funded program, Sci-Girls, offers the teachers, many coming from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, training for hands-on experiments and discovery-based learning.
While camps cost $375 a week, scholarships are offered thanks to donors and sponsors like Duke Energy.
“This is a place where girls and teachers go when they are looking for a place to geek out,” Marshall said of the camp. “Not one of the girls would rather be on the playground.”
That includes Claire and Sophie, who attended last summer’s camp and plan to go again this year.
“They’ve always been interested in scientific things,” Jennifer McClave said of her children. “We got them into science early on because it’s important to us, and they have an interest in it. Sophie likes to draw pictures of things and say, ‘This is a machine and it’s designed for this.’”
Last year, Claire enjoyed learning about the structure of buildings.
“We built bridges from popsicle sticks,” Claire said. “Mine was one of the smallest, but it was strong. It was a truss bridge with triangles and support.”
To test their bridges, they added weights and also used water and sand. Marshall said seeing their bridge be destroyed actually builds confidence and improves their ability to solve problems. By experiencing failure, they are able to have new ideas and can go back and build stronger structures like professional engineers.
“We learned how water moves, and that it takes the easiest way,” Claire said, adding they watched water move sand to learn about erosion and tested their bridges with it. “That was my favorite part of camp.”
Claire said she likes to go to Project Scientist Academy because she gets to experience so many different things instead of just reading about them, and she gets to meet new people.
“The reason I like science is because I want to know how the world works and I want to know what’s beyond the world, like astronomy,” she said.
Another favorite component was getting to video chat with a female engineer from NASA.
Marshall said it’s important attendees can meet women who are thriving in science-related fields.
“STEM professionals inspire them more than crazy ladies in sitcoms,” she said.
Sophie, who was the youngest of last year’s participants, enjoyed learning about birds and different kinds of fish, plus she enjoyed a project that included looking for worms.
Flapping her bent arms, Sophie demonstrated how hummingbirds with smaller wings fly faster. Claire said they also measured each other’s “wing span.”
Project Scientist Academy also brings in other subjects. One of their first tasks is to draw a scientist. Marshall said many usually start by drawing Einstein. By the end of the week, they are creating female scientists. If they stay for all five weeks, Marshall said they wind up drawing themselves. They also wrote poems about their projects and presented them to their parents.
“It’s a good experience,” Claire said of camp. “Science is important for people curious who want to learn about the world.”
Want to go? For more information or to sign up, go to www.projectscientist.org.