More than STEM Skills: My Tech Trek Experience

Shannon Cholakian (center) with her fellow peer counselors at Tech Trek in 2010

Shannon Cholakian (center) with her fellow peer counselors at Tech Trek in 2010

June 17, 2015

When I first applied to Tech Trek science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) camp, the prompt for my scholarship essay was, Where do you see yourself in 10 years? My answer was, “I have no idea. I am only 12. The opportunities are endless.”

Eight years later, I can honestly say the opportunities have been endless, largely thanks to Tech Trek. I attended Tech Trek in the summer of 2007, the summer before I entered eighth grade. Even though the camp was only a week long, my experience helped me establish life skills I use daily, empowered me to pursue leadership positions, and motivated me to follow my passions. Here is exactly what Tech Trek taught me.

1. A foundation of fundamentals

Above all else, Tech Trek is a week of skill-building, but not in the traditional sense. For a lot of campers, Tech Trek is their first time being away from their parents, their first time staying on a college campus, and their first time having a roommate. While a lot of skills are learned by doing, other skills are taught by the counselors, dorm moms, and teachers. I learned simple things like always write a thank-you note and remember to get each other’s contact information before camp ends, but I also took away major life skills. In addition to the science, technology, engineering, and math skills we learned in our classes, we learned the value of networking, collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking.

2. The groundwork for a lifetime of leadership

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As an AAUW Student Advisory Council member, Shannon helped plan the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL).

The leadership skills I learned at Tech Trek set the stage for me to pursue leadership roles in high school, college, and beyond. The class I was in at Tech Trek was all about the basics of business and divided everyone into four “businesses.” I was elected president, and we ended up being the second-best friendship bracelet company at the camp. I had such a positive experience working on that team that I wanted to give back. When I turned 16 I became a peer counselor for the same camp and two years later returned as a senior peer counselor.

Since then I have become a resident assistant at my university, served on the cabinet of my student government, and became president and founder of my university’s AAUW student organization. The leadership skills I learned at Tech Trek also empowered me to apply for the AAUW National Student Advisory Council, where I served as a student adviser for AAUW and a leader at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. My experiences in the Tech Trek classroom gave me the confidence to seek out and take advantage of these leadership roles.

3. The power of experiential, hands-on learning

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12-year-old Shannon at her first AAUW Tech Trek.

Even though I loved to read and absorb fun facts, 12-year-old me hadn’t thought of education and learning as the same thing. However at Tech Trek, education is not standardized. There are no tests at the end of the week, no quotas to fill. The only concerns at Tech Trek are whether or not a camper can take experience away from the classroom and if they had fun while doing it. Tech Trek was a sublime culture shock in that sense.

For the first time in my life, I was in a place made for, made by, and led by passionate women. My classmates were girls with similar passions, excited to learn and not pressured to stifle their aspirations because of gender norms. Growing up, girls are often taught that science and math don’t belong to them, and Tech Trek helped dissolve that myth. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to focus on what to remember for a test. I just had to enjoy learning and share my enjoyment with my new friends — that’s the Tech Trek education system.

I could go on for days about how important Tech Trek is to me and how impactful I found my experience. This summer I will be a dorm mom for two different Tech Trek locations and can’t wait to pass on the life lessons I learned to current students. I wouldn’t continue returning if I didn’t believe wholeheartedly in the mission of AAUW and Tech Trek. Beyond the great work Tech Trek does to encourage more girls to pursue STEM fields, Tech Trek changes lives.

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council Member Shannon Cholakian.

By:   |   June 17, 2015

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