Middle School Computer Discovery Camp for Girls
Twenty-nine middle-school girls started down the path of what could be their future computer science careers with a camp held at Main Campus this summer.
The demand for computer science professionals continues to grow, but the numbers of women and underrepresented minorities entering the field are not keeping pace. Addressing this issue and IIT's need to build diversity in its student body, IIT held a Middle School Computer Discovery Camp for Girls from July 18–28 in the new Idea Shop on Main Campus.
Sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the new K–12 STEM+ Pre-Collegiate Program and Youth Leadership Program, the camp also received a leadership gift from Andrea Berry (CS '84) through the Garfield and Phyllis Jenkins STEM+ Outreach Fund.
Led by IIT Vice Provost Jerry Doyle, the K–12 STEM+ Pre-Collegiate Program and Youth Leadership Program is part of an overall university strategic initiative to diversify the pool of candidates applying to the university and to introduce, encourage, and advance young people from elementary school through high school in STEM+ fields through various activities.
Vida Winans, senior instructor of computer science, led camp participants in a variety of hands-on activities to develop their interest and skills.
"The girls used Lego Mindstorms to 'build' robots—helping to strengthen their spatial skills—and then programmed their robots to learn some basic programming skills," Winans explains. "They used the StarLogo [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] program to learn to program games. They also were able to blog through most of the camp."
On the last day, 35–40 parents and family members came to see a demonstration, she added. "About half the girls chose to demonstrate what their Lego Mindstorms robots could do, and half chose to demonstrate a program they had written in StarLogo," says Winans.
Girls entering grades 7–9 this fall were eligible for the camp. Students from populations underrepresented in computer science and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), including African American, Hispanic, and Native American, were especially encouraged to apply.
According to the National Science Foundation, STEM jobs will grow at twice the rate of the economy to 2018, with the largest growth in computer and mathematics occupations.
Yet a recent study conducted by the American Association of University Women entitled "Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics" noted, "Women's representation among computer science bachelor's degrees is decreasing….In 1986, women earned one out of every three bachelor's degrees awarded in computer science; by 2006, women's share of computer science degrees had dropped to…one out of every five degrees awarded." Similarly, the numbers of African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans in computer science continues to lag behind their numbers in the U.S. population.
"This camp brought together high-potential girls who were excited to learn about technology," says Winans. "It is especially difficult for girls to find other girls who are 'techies'; it's important to identify these girls to give them support and encouragement."