Tech Trek Scholarship

Raising funds to send 7th grade girls to a math and science camps established by the American Association of University Women-California (AAUW-CA) is one of the main projects of the Benicia-Vallejo Branch. Selected seventh grade girls from Benicia and Vallejo enjoy a week’s experience of “camp,” without really “camping” at Sonoma State University.  Merchants from Benicia and Vallejo as well as participants in an annual Bunco Night and donations from members and others have helped to support this project. Learn more about our Tech Trek scholarship.

Girls in STEM

Young girls learn that science is fun at Benicia event


Grace Gardner, 9, left, helps Tessa Finn, 10, with the collection of a DNA sample from a strawberry pulp solution during ‘STEM Day for Girls’ on Saturday at the BrickSpace in Benicia. Sponsored by BrickSpace and The American Association of University Women, the day featured projects involving science, technology, engineering and math. MIKE JORY — VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen, Vallejo Times-Herald
Posted: 04/25/15, 5:18 PM PDT


Isabel Del Rio, 10, left, and Madeleine Monnette, 9, create personalized drawings upon which they will apply the small light circuits they’ve just made during a ‘STEM Day for Girls’ project at BrickSpace in Benicia on Saturday under the direction of Lawrence Hall of Science’s Reyna Hamilton, not shown. MIKE JORY — VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD

Natalie Kidder and Fary Koh say they believe the whole world would be better off with more women in the sciences, so they produce events like Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) Day
for girls in Benicia on Saturday. The two women, who come at the issue from slightly different perspectives, teamed up for these events
which give girls in grades 2 to 6 hands-on experience in several disciplines. Legos, which feature prominently in Koh’s Benicia business, BrickSpace, are used to teach engineering, for instance.
Strawberries, meanwhile, were reduced to their basic DNA during another workshop elsewhere in the facility.

“Boys tend more to gravitate to these kinds of things,” Koh said. “Girls sometimes need a little push. Once they get an idea about it, a lot of the time, they say, ‘wow, this is interesting.’”
In some cases, Koh, an educator, said she’s heard some parents will get Legos for their sons but not their daughters.
“Society perpetuates this,” said Kidder, a stay-at-home mom and former IT security engineer for the federal government. It was a lonely place for a woman, she said.
“I always wondered, ‘why am I the only person working here?’” Kidder said. And, there’s evidently a time limit on introducing girls to these subjects and getting it to stick, the women said.
“Studies show that something happens at about the seventh grade,” Kidder said. “If a girl is not hooked on these sciences by then, they probably never will be.”
This is important, Koh said, because women think and approach things differently from men, and until now, the female scientific perspective is mostly missing.

At Saturday’s event, Reyna Hamilton was teaching the younger girls how circuitry works. “They are testing different materials to see which ones are good conductors of electricity,” she said. “Then, we’re going to apply what they’ve learned by making a picture that lights up.”
The second through sixth-graders at Saturday’s event also planned to make working robots, the women said. “They’ll make alligator robots out of Legos that will open and close their mouths,” Kidder said.

“This is great,” said Katie Valdez, 11, a fifth-grader at Joe Henderson Elementary School. “It’s good because you get to learn some stuff other kids don’t get to learn — about cells and how to power stuff. And it’s fun stuff that some girls never get to do.”
Valdez, who said she wants to be a Google coder some day, said her favorite part of the experience may have been “squeezing the DNA out of strawberries.”

Other workshops during STEM Day included Digital Bling, wherein the girls constructed working and wearable circuits, a self-defense component and a discussion on careers in STEM fields. “You ask ‘why?’ and I’d answer, ‘why not?” said Kidder, who also represents the Benicia-Vallejo branch of the American Association of University Women. “These have long been male-dominated fields and women just need to break that barrier, and this is one way we’re helping make that happen.”
A STEM Day for Girls is planned for Vallejo on June 14 at the Vallejo Yacht Club. The cost to participate is $10.

For more information, visit
Call Rachel Raskin-Zrihen at 707-553-6824

With the Times-Herald since 1999, Rachel Raskin-Zrihen has been a reporter, writer and columnist for several print and online publications for nearly 30 years. She is the married mother of two grown sons and lives locally. Reach the author at or follow Rachel on Twitter: @rachelvth.

Girls in STEM Day

GirlsinSTEMDayAAUW member Natalie Kidder collaborated with Fary Koh of BrickSpace to present a ‘Girls in STEM Day’ workshop for girls in 2nd through 6th grades. The event was held on Saturday August 24th from 10-2pm at BrickSpace in Benicia. Former Tech Trek scholarship recipients served as mentors for the girls during the day and proved to be valuable advisors to the girls during each workshop.

Natalie Kidder and Fary Koh, owner of BrickSpace

Natalie Kidder and Fary Koh, owner of BrickSpace

The workshops included programming robotics, constructing wind turbines and building bridges. Focus was on engineering aspects, scientific method, as well as environmental concerns and teamwork. One of the speakers, Antonia Becker, taught the girls about the dangers of lead in kid’s jewelry and other products and showed them how she tested for lead.

STEM-Day-1Girls divided into small groups during lunch where they enjoyed pizza & salad and discussed various STEM topics with local professionals in STEM fields. AAUW’s Alice Labay (microbiologist, biochemist) served as a speaker, as well as Antonia Becker (hazardous waste inspector for the state of CA) and Reena Thomas (scientist for the Water Board). One of the topics discussed with the girls was how STEM helps solve problems all over the world.

AAUW Membership VP’s Anna Nguyen and Sally Proctor were present during the day to discuss AAUW with the girls’ parents and help with the event. President Marilyn Schaeffer was there to support the day’s activities as well as give a little info to the girls about AAUW and the Tech Trek program. The day was a great success!

Election Forum

Historically, the Benicia-Vallejo Branch has joined the Benicia League of Women Voters to sponsor a free forum highlighting election candidates and propositions.

Women’s Shelter

Every year during the holiday season, members donate gifts for a local women’s shelter.