COVID-19 Updates: Fall Semester


Click image to enlarge

STEAM Girls campers spent a week immersed in fun activities related to engineering, physics, coding, and robotics. Photo: Brett Simison

Media Contact

Ray, Sarah C.
(802) 443-5794

Student-Run Camp Keeps Girls Interested in Science, Technology

September 8, 2017

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – For the second summer in a row, a team of Middlebury students has run a summer camp for girls aimed at sparking their interest in technology. STEAM (short for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) Girls is the brainchild of Joy Wood ’17, a computer science major on a mission to improve the gender balance in her chosen field.

As Wood progressed through college, she noticed that very few women seemed to share her passion for computer science—not in her Middlebury classes and not at the tech camp where she taught programming. She was surprised that only 17 percent of campers were female, even in the youngest classes.

STEAM Girls campers work on programming a Lego robot during their August session. Photo: Brett Simison

“Teaching a classroom full of boys was awesome because I knew that I was representing a strong female in the classroom,” she mused, “but I just longed to see more girls there and to reach out to younger girls and share my love of computer science with them.”

Wood says there is no shortage of interest in computer science among young girls. But in middle school, “girls start to lose interest and lose confidence in their own abilities to succeed in technology.”

Wood recruited her friend and fellow student Kristin Richards ’17 to develop a short, fun summer program that would jump-start girls’ interest in technology. They landed a seed grant from the College’s MiddChallenge program, which funds several entrepreneurial student projects each year, and forged ahead with their two-week camp.

This summer—the second year of their project—Wood and Richards felt the camp could be improved by splitting it along age groups, so they created one weeklong camp for 7- to 10-year-olds and another for ages 11 to 14.

Campers enjoy a sweet physics experiment during STEAM Girls. Photo: Chris Spencer

A playful, collaborative atmosphere filled the gym where the girls and counselors met daily. They circulated among three stations that offered activities in engineering and physics—featuring plenty of marshmallows—computer coding, and Lego robots. The College’s Computer Science Department donated much of the equipment.

“What was most important to me was just showing these girls that this is fun and you can be good at it—and be confident that you’re good at it,” said Gigi Miller ’18, who joined the team this year as a counselor. “I think having any exposure to this now means the next time they see it, they’ll think ‘Oh, I already know this; I did something like this before.’”

At the end of each weeklong camp, the girls invited their parents for an open house and mini graduation ceremony. Wood says it was an “incredible experience as an instructor to see how excited the girls are to tell their parents about what they’ve learned over the course of a week.” She sees a high demand for this kind of education, with parents often asking her how their daughters can continue learning about technology.

Professor Daniel Scharstein, chair of the Computer Science Department, didn’t need much persuading to back the students’ program.

“We were very happy to support the STEAM Girls project,” said Scharstein. “There is a huge need for outreach projects that increase the participation of underrepresented groups in computer science, and we applaud Joy on her initiative.”

Although Wood is now teaching at a STEM charter school in Denver, she is eager to see STEAM Girls continue and has handed the program off to a new group of undergraduates. She hopes the program will continue to grow and reach a much larger audience.

“There are so many girls out there with amazing ideas who deserve to know that computer science is something they can do and something they can contribute to!”


This is very inspiring! Kudos to all involved!

by Will Amidon (not verified)

Good job. I wish you much success in this endeavor. I graduated with a BS in Computer Science in 1984 and spent my career in the high tech industry where I'm sure the percentage of female participation was smaller than 17%. I am now an IT specialist and teach computer classes in a K-8 school. I am always endeavoring to get girls interested in coding, robotics and tech related activities. I'm just over the hill from Joy in Western Colorado and iIt's great to know there are others in my state working towards the same great goal.

by Deanne Adamson (not verified)

I'm unclear on where the arts came into play in the camp? STEAM is supposed to represent equal learning in Science, Technology and the Arts--I don't see where an art form was taught in conjunction with the other areas.

by Shannon J Bohler (not verified)

Hi Shannon - good question and sorry it took me forever to see it! The Arts component is something I'm really excited about when it comes to STEAM Girls. It came into play in a couple different ways. First, we teaching coding in a visual, interactive way. At STEAM, our campers used a program called Processing to program interactive generative art pieces. They learned how color is encoded by computers and how to create shapes. They then were able to create programs that allowed users to interact with shape and color by moving their computer mouse. A quick google search
 ...View More
for "processing generative art" will show you some really cool examples of the kind of art our campers explored. During year one of STEAM Girls, we also used Arduinos, which are really cool pieces of hardware that allow exploration of electrical engineering. One of our campers programmed hers to play a musical piece. Other campers programmed LED lights and connected them to various crafts. It was very cool! STEAM definitely hopes to highlight how much room there is for creative expression in engineering and coding.
View Less

by Joy Wood (not verified)

Post a new comment

We hope to create a lively discussion and invite you to add your voice. Please keep comments civil and relevant to the news item at hand. We may remove comments that do not follow these guidelines.

Your comment will be visible after it has been approved by our comment moderators.