BYU Youth Camps Encourage Girls’ Participation in STEM Fields

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BYU’s Youth Science Camps seek to close the gender gap in STEM fields by reaching out to elementary and middle school girls.

“These girls can do whatever they want,” said Angela Jones, mentor of the BYU Computer Science Women’s Initiative. “They just have to have the confidence that they can do it.”

Last week, BYU hosted the second annual Girls Code Camp. Forty girls aged 8 to 11 participated in a week of activities designed to develop their computational thinking skills and teach them basic computing principles.

Camp activities included crafts and engineering puzzles, one-on-one coding instruction, a presentation from BYU animation students, and a chance for all the girls to share their projects with their parents at the end of the week. .

Girls Code is part of the BYU Computer Science Women’s Initiative, a program that aims to recruit, mentor, and retain female computer science students. IT is a male-dominated field, which is why the initiative aims to help women project themselves into careers in IT.

According to Jones, that’s why they chose such a young age group for the Girls Code camp. At this age, “stereotypes have no hasn’t been fully defined yet, and we think we can influence that age very well,” Jones said.

Girls Code directors worked with the Title IX office to ensure that the all-girls camp complied with school regulations. Title IX coordinator Tiffany Turley said she was advised by the General Council and would ensure equal access to coding camps for all interested parties.

We want to make sure that we provide equal opportunities for all boys and girls and members of the community,” Turley said.

Other BYU youth camps have also focused on introducing girls to science. Chip Camp and Chem Camp – youth camps that teach electrical engineering and chemistry, respectively – both reserve slots for female students and strongly encourage girls to attend.

“We do indeed want to attract a lot of girls, so we specify that 50% of the slots are girls, 50% are boys,” said Chem Camp co-director Daniel Ess.

Chem Camp participants perform experiments in a BYU lab. (Rebecca Sansom)

Like Girls Code, Chem Camp also saw the importance of introducing girls to the scientific community at a young age. Ess said the number of girls applying for Chem Camp drastically decreases as the girls get older.

“Our goal is to give girls an experience where they see themselves as scientists, and that identity will help them get through those years when so many girls lose interest,” said Chem Camp co-director Jennifer Nielson.

Chip Camp accepts seventh and eighth graders for the same reason – these formative years are the years in which students make fundamental decisions about what they like and want to pursue in the future.

“The female students weren’t getting enough support at that time,” said engineering professor Aaron Hawkins. “Unless they were encouraged and thought, ‘Okay, this is something I can do, this is something I’m interested in’, so he was very unlikely to pursue him in the future.”

A 2018 Chip Camp attendee learns about circuits through a hands-on activity. (Aaron Hawkins)

Jones also noted that it’s easier for young girls to imagine themselves on the court if they have a female role model to look up to. Many undergraduate women in STEM programs have benefited from female mentorship.

Chip Camp co-director and sophomore electrical engineering student Gracie Richens said she was inspired by her mother, who studied engineering and later became a doctor.

“I have to go see (my mother and her friends) receive awards from American medical associations and serve on hospital boards,” Richens said. “They were the ones making decisions and making changes, and I wanted to be them.”

Girls Code counselor Mads Reinhard said she was influenced by a fellow missionary who encouraged her to take an introductory computer course. During class, a female Ph.D. student helped her with homework and labs.

“I don’t think I could have done it…without any support (from other women),” Reinhard said.

Richens said the end goal is to see all students, women and men, become interested in STEM subjects and pursue studies and careers in these fields. By sparking interest at a young age, these camps help to work towards a more equitable future.

Girls bring a “unique perspective” to STEM fields, Richens added. “They can impact the same world as boys.”

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