During just four weeks last summer, 15-year-old Baheen Huzan managed to change the career goals of seven young girls. These girls, who were initially interested in pursuing a traditional job, ended up wanting to pursue a STEM career.

The Cherry Hill resident has led two workshops at the summer camp of her local mosque, the Gracious Center of Learning and Enrichment Activities. Each four-week workshop taught girls ages 6 to 11 how to build and program a robot, work in teams, and compete in a friendly robotics competition, she says.

“When I was growing up in this community, I didn’t feel as though I had that opportunity to be exposed to something that would teach me the basics of STEM and also make me interested in the field, which is what I was able to accomplish through my workshop,” Huzan says.

When Huzan thought about engineering as a child, she says she imagined a man wearing a white helmet working at a construction site. Today, her view of engineering is very different.

“I never knew it existed,” she says. “That’s such a big part of the problem, because if they had expanded the definition of that word I would have been able to better visualize it in my head and put my face there instead of that man’s.”

When Huzan surveyed her eight campers at the start of the first workshop, only one was already interested in pursuing a career in STEM. After the workshop, they all were.

“I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment,” Huzan says. “I was more proud to see the effect I had on the girls. That really showed the impact one person can have.”

Huzan worked with her students using a LEGO WeDo construction set, which includes functioning motors and sensors, to allow students to build and program their robots. After the workshop, Huzan raised money to purchase another set for the summer camp to continue using in the following summers.

Huzan believes the campers were so inspired by the workshop that they’ll continue learning in the STEM fields. A camper from the first workshop also told Huzan that she would recommend the workshop to her friends. And sure enough, when Huzan returned to the camp this summer to host the workshop again, there were more campers.

Huzan’s interest in computer programming and engineering began in seventh grade, when she competed through ProjectCSGIRLS, a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing STEM interests in young girls. The competition provided participants with a problem to be solved using technology. Huzan wrote a program that translates alpha numeric characters to brail for students. The technology takes a screenshot of text and translates it for students with sight impairments.

The following year, Huzan entered the competition again. This time, she built an air quality sensor that can detect levels of pollution in the air. She was later invited to present her design to the Environmental Protection Agency of New Jersey.

“Once I realized the power of a computer and programming, I was really fascinated by it,” she says. “I think it’s going to be a big part of the future, and I think everybody should at least learn the basics now.”

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