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Extension Snapshots

STEM Bootcamp connects high school girls with professional women in local STEM careers

two girls wearing lab coats and safety goggles

For the third year in a row, University of Illinois Extension Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit, the Society of Women Engineers–Central Illinois, and Bradley University partnered together to offer STEM Bootcamp to high school age girls. STEM Bootcamp is designed to create a learning opportunity focused on teamwork, solving a problem, and mentorship by female engineers and scientists.

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) stated in their 2014 report, “Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing”, that girls today are studying and succeeding in math and science more than ever before. However, their success in these subjects is not reflected in an increased number of women employed in engineering and computing careers.  Obstacles exist from childhood to middle adulthood. Providing informal science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning environments is one of the recommended practices to help encourage participation in STEM careers (Dasgupta and Stout, 2014). 

As part of the 2019 STEM bootcamp, 22 high school girls learned about problem-solving and decision making by solving a crime through analyzing simulated blood, fiber, and hair. Girls also spent time in small groups with a member of the Society of Women engineers doing mock interviews and discussing interview skills. “The time the girls spent interacting with female role models and mentors is one of my favorite parts of the day because it helps girls visualize who they could be in the future.” says Judy Schmidt, 4-H youth development educator.

Ninety-four percent of the girls who attended reported learning skills or information that will help them achieve their goals for the future. Eighty-eight percent learned about jobs and careers that they had not thought much about before and also felt more confident about career exploration and steps to prepare for a STEM career. 

Sarai, a freshman at Manual Academy shared these thoughts about her experience.  “I will come to every opportunity that University of Illinois Extension or the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) offers. My goal right now is to be a female, Spanish speaking, leader of a construction company. When I attend U of I Extension and SWE events, I feel that I learn so much from the women engineers. I love attending these classes on a college campus like Bradley. I work hard to carry good grades and I try to keep focused on their importance.   STEM Bootcamp helps me stay focused.”

Since the first STEM Bootcamp in 2017, Illinois Extension has reached 80 young ladies through the day-long camp, with hands-on activities and career exploration. It is just one example of ways Illinois 4-H programs help youth learn more about future career options.


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Judy Schmidt provides leadership to 4-H metro programming in Peoria County. Schmidt joined Extension in 2001, working as a Youth Development Educator at the East Peoria Center and joined the Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell unit in 2011. Her work focuses on 4-H youth development programming in the local metropolitan area, specifically leading positive youth development initiatives for after-school programs, community groups, 4-H clubs and other youth-serving organizations. Her areas of expertise include positive youth development principles, youth leadership, and work with teens as teachers.

Schmidt attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for her bachelor's degree in psychology and also for her master's degrees in Social Work and Marriage and Family Therapy. She is a certified facilitator of the Matrixx System/Real Colors program by the National Curriculum and Training Institute.


Extension Snapshots are monthly impact reports that share the stories of our programs in Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell counties. To have them delivered to you directly sign up using our E-blast registration.