#AspireIT in Oregon: FACT Camp

Naomi Shah is a 2013 National Award for Aspirations in Computing Runner-Up and 2013 and 2013 Oregon and SW Washington Award winner. She is a 2013 graduate of Sunset High School in Portland, Oregon, and will be a freshman Stanford this fall and will be pursuing science and engineering fields as possible majors.

The idea for a computing camp for middle-school girls hit me when I realized that most girls at my high school go through their four years not knowing that computer science classes are even an option for them. In many public schools, girls are a minority and Sunset High School was no different: I was one of about four girls taking computing classes in classes of about 50 students. I often talked to this problem with my computer science teacher, Mr. Galbraith, and at the end of my junior year we decided to start planning for FACT camp, which stands for Females Advancing Computing and Technology.

Our first FACT camp was small because we were on a tight budget. The funding came from money that a science program I was involved with (Intel STS) gave to Sunset High School when I became a finalist. However, for the second FACT camp we applied for a grant through NCWIT and were honored to partner with Lewis and Clark College, which allowed us access to many more resources (like tablets from Intel which we used for some games), the capacity to host more girls, and (the best part) the ability to take the girls on field trips that exposed them to real-world tech careers.

This year's FACT camp ran from June 24-28 at Sunset High School, and we focused on Game Maker (this is in contrast to our first camp in which we covered various fields over 4 days including GameMaker, Graphic Design, Programming, and Robotics). The first couple of days consisted of learning the basics of GameMaker. Mr. Galbraith, Jeanie, another student at Sunset High School, and I were always on our feet answering tons of questions that the girls had - it was great to see them keep putting their hands in the air because it showed their curiosity in the field. Starting on Wednesday, they started making their own games in partners and teams. They approached us with many ideas and we would help them narrow down what they could accomplish within a few days. The best part was seeing them not jump out of their seats when it was "snack time" because they were so focused on their games. Many girls even approached us about working on their games after the camp so we bought flash drives for everyone and taught them how to install GameMaker on their computers at home.

We took two field trips that week. The first one was to Columbia Sportswear, located right near Sunset High School. We met with a panel of women in the field from business leaders to engineers that write code to support the shipping of products across the company. The girls tended to be shy when it came to asking questions at the panel, so we prepared a few interesting questions that we thought would be fun for them to hear about like: "If you could go back in time to your middle-school self, what advice would you give yourself?", "What keeps work fun for you, and what do you look forward to every day?", and "What got you interested in technology?". A similarly formatted panel took place at our Intel field trip on Friday, we were so happy that we had the opportunity to visit the Jones Farm Campus. So many volunteers stepped forward at Intel to talk to the girls about their journeys in the field and what they love about being a women in STEM. We also got a tour of the museum at the Intel Visitor Center and learned about how chips are made from start to finish.