By Sharon Chin

PALO ALTO (CBS SF) – Girls explore the outdoors, program robots they built, and analyze fat in French fries. It’s a tiny taste of Tech Trek – a week-long summer camp for under-served eighth grade girls, founded by Marie Wolbach of Palo Alto.

“One woman said after the first camp, I don’t know what you did this week but I left a girl and I just picked up a young woman,” said Marie.

Since Tech Trek started, some 11-thousand girls have learned about science and math careers while living on a college campus.

Marie, a retired medical sociologist, founded the educational program as part of the American Association of University Women.

Stanford junior Lauren Sweet decided to study pre-med after her 2006 camp experience.

“That was the first time that I learned hair looked different under a microscope and that was really cool,” Lauren said.

Marie started the first Tech Trek Camp at Stanford University in 1998.

Today there are also camps on seven other California college campuses, and in seven other states.

“I want them to come away with self confidence that they can do anything they set their mind to, Marie said. “And with a love of science even if they don’t all become scientists.”

Stanford graduate Ellen Le, who works at a startup, says Tech Trek empowered her to major in chemical engineering.

“It was so incredible to see role models and feel so much warmth from people believing in me and not making me feel weird for liking this so much,” said Ellen.

Tech Trek teacher Nancy Fohner credits Marie’s leadership for the camp’s success.

“She knew what to do,” said Nancy. “She know how to get organized, she know how to phone, what had to be done, what to order.”

Marie says surveys show Tech Trek graduates are breaking barriers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

“96-point something were in college and 54 percent were STEM majors,” Marie said.

So for opening girls’ eyes to science and math careers, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Marie Wolbach.

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