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At USC’s Project Payload camp, middle school girls get a lesson in STEM – that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

“They’re testing the forces of gravity, they’re learning about kinetic energy, potential energy,” said Anne Areta, Director of Project Payload.

We met up with the teens as they were building and launching stomp rockets. It seems like a small start, but by the end of the camp, things get real.

“They’re going to be launching a high-altitude weather balloon and they’re going to be learning a little about satellites and everything that goes into it,” said Areta.

The entire purpose of the camp is to get more female teens interested in a potential STEM career.

“Throughout the days of the camp I was like ‘wow this is really interesting’ and something I might want to do in the future,” said Julia Schonberger, a former camper now back as a counselor.

This year’s camp almost didn’t happen. A few years ago, funds for Project Payload ran out. This year, a venture capital firm named Embedded Ventures stepped in with a four-year commitment and six-figure donation to bring it back.

“We invest in space technology beyond launch… things that happen in space that are enabled by rocket costs coming down,” said Jordan Noone, co-founder of Embedded Ventures. He’s also a USC alumnus.

Jordan Noone, co-founder of Embedded Ventures

“That’s specifically why we decided to come back to USC was the amount of the potential that comes out of the students here,” said Noone.

For the campers, this is a critical time.

“This is actually around the age that girls start dropping out of STEM, this middle school time, so this is actually the most important time to be engaged,” explained Areta.

Camper Camila Sosa of Gardena is an incoming eighth grader.

“I want to be an architect and a lawyer,” said Sosa. “Science has a lot to do with critical thinking.”

Getting these girls interested in science brings more potential to an entire industry.

“We want to diversify the field as much as possible because everyone’s point of view is important,” said Areta.

“They realize that they enjoy it and that’s something that could be transformational for their future outcome,” concluded Noone.

A portion of the donation for this year’s camp was made in honor of a former camper named Summer Medford. She battled a lifelong illness and passed away at just 14.