For the past five years, a summer camp has been providing the hands on STEM experiences that girls miss in school, potentially bringing more women into the tech workforce.
The Computer Discovery Camp at Illinois Institute of Technology is run by computer science professor Vida Winans. Middle school girls are encouraged to pursue STEM through engineering, coding, and robotics. Winans wants to change the gender ratio in her classes, offering girls encouragement and additional skills not available elsewhere.
“Almost all of my classes are young men,” she said .”I have a dearth of women in my classes and that’s sad.”
Winans chose to focus the camp on middle school, as this is a turning point for young women. She used a National Science Foundation grant for increasing diversity in the STEM fields. The program is now funded by university sources and alumni.
“Middle school is where girls decide they don’t want to do STEM,” she said. “They decide it isn’t cool to do math and science. We try to catch them in that time in their life when it’s not cool to be smart.”