Tuesday, September 19 , 2017, 8:31 pm | Fair 65º

 
 
 
 

Coding Summer Camp in Goleta Inspires Girls to Pursue STEM Fields

Students program robots, learn 3-D modeling and embrace the fundamentals of coding at Dos Pueblos High School

Girls practice coding in a summer camp hosted at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta. Click to view larger
Girls practice coding in a summer camp hosted at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Their fingers span across the computer keyboard as they assemble a series of blue, green and purple letters and numbers, stacking one line on top of the other.

One tiny error — an extra comma, number or space — could change it to gibberish.

“Minor glitch,” said Washington Elementary School student Nicole Barger, 9.

A group of girls huddled around the desktop computer laughed at their mishap, and Barger deleted the programming language.

It was summer hours, and their voices echoed in the empty school halls.

On a recent afternoon, Dos Pueblos High School student Michelle Qin and her sister Sophia, a UC Berkeley freshman, were leading an eight-day crash course about computer coding to girls in fifth grade to ninth grade.

The summer camp was designed to inspire girls to take up coding, teach the fundamentals of computer science, and ignite a passion for science, technology, engineering and math.

“It’s clear our world is rapidly advancing, and the girls get to learn how impactful computer science is,” Qin said. “We hope the girls understand that they can help and share their talent with the community.”

The 16-year-old said it’s important to recognize that coding is an essential skill for both girls and boys.

Washington Elementary School students Nicole Barger, 10, left, and Sophia Abbott, 9, use algorithms to program a computer to operate their Finch robot during a girls summer camp at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta. Click to view larger
Washington Elementary School students Nicole Barger, 10, left, and Sophia Abbott, 9, use algorithms to program a computer to operate their Finch robot during a girls summer camp at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

During the camp, 25 girls sat at their desktop computers, their eyes scanning the long list of coding tips. 

Posters hung at the side of the computer lab read “every girl deserves to take part in creating the technology that will change our world, and change who runs it.”

La Colina Junior High School student Alyssa Crutchfield, 12, typed algorithms in her computer to operate her small Finch robot.

“I like to try new things,” said Crutchfield, who inspires to be an engineer or architect.

She was carefully writing out “Finch LED color: R:0 G:0 …” while Qin explained the meaning behind the code.

Students at the camp create interactive projects on Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Scratch education tool, learn to program robots, work in teams and learn fundamental concepts in computer science through interactive games and animations.

The girls aren't sitting behind the computer keyboard the entire time. 

They also learn 3-D modeling by using computer-aided design tools and listen to presentations from local engineers and scientists in technology industries.

La Colina Junior High School student Alyssa Crutchfield, 12, works on operating her Finch robot during a coding summer camp. Click to view larger
La Colina Junior High School student Alyssa Crutchfield, 12, works on operating her Finch robot during a coding summer camp.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

For their final projects, some girls are creating educational games to teach people about recycling or women's rights, while other girls are creating a 3-D-printed arm prototype to help people with physical disabilities. 

UC Santa Barbara Computer Science Professor Diba Mirza was a mentor for the camp, as were volunteer students from the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.

“We are teaching the campers skills that would help them continue to learn computer science on their own, and we also talk about careers in STEM by sharing our personal journey in the field,” Mirza said. “Providing mentorship at all levels is important.”

Women are underrepresented in computer science, but this has not been the case historically, Mirza said.

Mirza noted that according to the National Center for Education Statistics, women accounted for nearly 37 percent of computer science undergraduate students in the 1984-1985 academic year.

“The number steadily dropped as home computers became more common and computer science was largely marketed to boys,” Mirza said. “The gender disparity we see today has historical reasons.”

Only 25 percent of professional computing occupations in the U.S. workforce were held by women in 2015, according to data published by the National Center for Women and Information Technology.

Mirza suggested teaching computer science in middle and high schools in ways that are engaging, and paying particular attention to underrepresented and underserved communities.

“If our culture regarded women computer scientists more akin to rock stars (which is how I see them), we would have more girls aspiring to be like them,” Mirza said.

“Girls also need to come in contact with more positive and relatable role models who can motivate them to pursue careers in computer science.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Michelle Qin, a junior at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, leads a coding summer camp for girls geared toward empowering them to pursue STEM fields. Click to view larger
Michelle Qin, a junior at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, leads a coding summer camp for girls geared toward empowering them to pursue STEM fields.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)
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