MINOT, N.D. (KXNET) — Sara Medalen put all her work into the first annual Girl Power camp for one purpose: to plant a seed in her students that would change the trajectory of their lives into a better one, where they see the pursuit of higher education as a long-term goal.

“I also wanted to do this to heighten awareness and participation for girls who are typically underrepresented in STEM, and then also to enhance students’ vision and confidence in regard to academic and career aspirations; for them to think, ‘I could go to Minot State someday if that’s what my dream is,’” Medalen said.

In a joint effort with the University, Medalen, a reading and math interventionist for grades K-5 at Sunnyside Elementary School, launched the first overnight Girl Power event for 20 Sunnyside girls, where they stayed at Minot State and enjoyed space camp activities that encouraged critical thinking and teamwork.

Medalen has taught at Sunnyside for 18 years and believes we cannot properly educate children if their emotional needs are not satisfied and secured.

In that vein, Medalen helps with different educational initiatives and programs in Minot. She runs Brooks and Braids before school hours, a makeshift girls’ hair salon inside her classroom that offers extra reading practice.

She is a mentor for Companions for Children, a program that involves local youth in community activities.

She’s also been a part of BIO Girls, a physical education-oriented program with a mission to improve girls’ self-esteem through the empowerment of self and service to others.

Because of earning the 2020 North Dakota United Teacher of the Year Award, Medalen went to Huntsville, Alabama on a week-long program that revolved around NASA-inspired lesson plans for educators, all of which correlate with national science education standards.

“When I finished that experience, I wanted to come back and provide a science, technology, engineering, and math camp or a space camp for kids right here, and it was great because I had tons of resources from it made available to me,” she said. “The idea behind the simulations the kids did was to get them excited about learning. You don’t always see their excitement in school,” Medalen said.

Girl Power first originated as a Sunnyside afterschool club in which Medalen worked with her students in a project-oriented learning environment to come up with fundraising ideas, such as selling t-shirts to raise money for less-fortunate school children.

They managed to raise over $10,000 in tuition money for girls in Haiti.

Minot State already hosted Girl Power on July 7-8 at the Wellness Center.

The camp included group activities such as a shielded egg drop, simulated rover landing, rocket assembly, and rocket launching.

Participants had a limited token budget to simulate challenges of resource scarcity and availability as well.

“We were able to correlate the camp activities with actual space activities, so the kids understood that what they were doing right here is what it looks like when NASA was actually preparing to go to Mars or to the moon, for example,” Medalen said. “They also had team-building activities beyond space simulation, like rock climbing and yoga.”

“Most of the kids without question said their favorite part was staying in the dorm and eating in the dining hall. Like I said, my goal was to plant a seed, to give them an opportunity to see what college is like,” Medalen said.

Medalen and Minot State faculty plan to grow future Girl Power camps bigger and better.

“Minot State was amazing. Dr. Lisa Borden-King (Reading Clinic director) and her students, who volunteered as instructors, made sure things went smoothly,” Medalen said. “For next year, we have a whole page of notes on things that we want to do to make the camp better, but they were all just logistics.”

The camp was made possible after Medalen applied for and received grants from North Dakota United, Souris River Telephone, Power of the Purse, and Minot Area Community Foundation.

“Many of the students at Sunnyside are living in poverty. These grants allowed them to attend the program and stay on campus for free,” she said. “So I’m very thankful for the generosity of our community, for them seeing the need for something like Girl Power in Minot,” Medalen said.