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64 seventh grade girls learn about particle detection and more during Tech Trek

tech trek
Seventh-grade girls participate in a game as part of the Tech Trek learning experience. Photo courtesy FTPP

Sixty-four seventh grade girls from area schools participated June 9-15 in the 2024 Alabama Tech Trek, a residential Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program for rising eighth-grade girls offered by the American Association of University Women’s Huntsville branch and The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

“The message we hope to convey is that scientists don’t always wear lab coats, and everyone can make an impact in STEM, regardless of their background,” says Laura Provenzani, Future Technologies & enabling Plasma Processes (FTPP) education, outreach and diversity coordinator. “Diversity brings fresh perspectives and innovation to the field.”


Tech Trek immerses young women in a world that empowers and encourages them to think of themselves as future scientists, engineers, mathematicians and computer specialists. Campers spent a week on the UAH campus and participated in a core curriculum program as well as workshops, field trips and a special mentoring night with professional women scientists and engineers.

“The camp focused on particle detection, and to enhance engagement, we titled the presentation ‘An Out of This World Presentation’ to avoid a lecture-like format,” says Deonna Banks, FTPP summer marketing and administration intern.

Students actively engaged and demonstrated strong interactivity throughout the camp, Banks says.

“Their positive feedback about our workshop brought us great satisfaction and joy.”

The lesson was planned by Banks and facilitated by Provenzani and UAH graduate students Sarah Dalessi, Rebecca Harvey and Katherine Davidson.

FTPP is an Alabama coalition of nine universities and a research corporation, led by UAH and supported by a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation. FTPP aims to fund and transition plasma science and engineering research into commercial applications to create thousands of high-paying technical careers in the state and region.

Part of Tech Trek was a game where campers learned about space physics and plasma science and engineering.

“My favorite part was facilitating the game,” Dalessi says. “I had the opportunity to explain to the students how to play and the concept behind it.”

Tech Trek was structured to emulate a graduation ceremony. At the conclusion, students were presented with certificates of completion and other FTPP swag.

“I appreciated the students’ enthusiasm and attentiveness during our discussion on particle detection,” Harvey says.

imap lesson

Campers learned about NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission, including its anticipated launch timeline, as well as topics related to the heliosphere and particle detection. IMAP will investigate the acceleration of energetic particles and the interaction of the solar wind with the interstellar medium, which is the material that fills the space between the stars.

“I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the experience. It was truly an honor to collaborate with Tech Trek for this exceptional camp, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity,” says Davidson.

The experience was a win-win for everyone, Provenzani says.

“I am so proud of our graduate students and intern for organizing such a great event. We involved students in a fun lesson about space plasma and the IMAP mission,” she says.

“The best part was teaching the girls about space physics, a field they rarely get to experience. I am sure many, if not all, found it as fascinating as we do.”