Robots, Glitter, and a New Spin on STEM

Today's guest post is from Savannah Loberger, a 2013 National Award Winner and 2011 Oregon/SW Washington Affiliate Award Winner of NCWIT's Award for Aspirations in Computing. This summer, Savannah ran a STEM and computer science camp for middle school girls as part of our pilot AspireIT program. She is a 2013 graduate of Hillsboro High School, and will attend Oregon State University in the fall of 2013. Savannah plans to study Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. She has been a strong advocate for STEM education since a young age and plans on continuting outreach during and after college.

My name is Savannah Loberger, and I created Girls Get IT (Innovative Technology) Camp. We have had six successful camps in the past three years. I was tired of being the only girl in my tech classes and on my robotics team, and I wanted to share with other girls how cool STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) really is. So, the summer after my sophomore year I organized and ran a summer camp so that middle and high school girls could experience technology hands-on in a pressure-free environment, and that’s where this all began. 
 
There are a few things that always happen on the first day of camp. 
 
We start with science-themed decorations like balloons and confetti, and then add rocking good music. This opens the girls to meeting new people, making friends, and trying something new. The energetic volunteers add to the positive atmosphere. Lastly, glitter everywhere. Seriously. 
 
My favorite part of the first day is meeting all the new campers and looking forward to knowing each one by the end of the week. It is really hard to explain the energy level and the environment of the camp unless you experience it for yourself. 
 
 
I have been fortunate to have the best teachers work with me for the Girls Get IT! Camps. They are all high school girls that have a passion to get other girls involved. The growth that I've seen from my team is amazing, from the first to the last day of camp (and these ladies were amazing before I met them!). One fantastic fact about this summer is that every teacher pictured had attended a camp and then came back to teach this year. 
 
Teachers pictured above working on the robotics curriculum before the camps.
 
From left to right: Alexa, Erika, Mary Catherine, Ashley, and Josie
 
Girls Get IT! is different because the teachers (high school girls) are the ones who create the curriculum, plan the activities, and teach the sessions. The program is designed by girls, run by girls, and is for girls. Having the girls taught by high school girls made the whole experience more fun, more rewarding, and easier for the girls to relate to and understand.
 
It is important for girls to realize that technology is out there for them but what is priceless is when they have the confidence in themselves to help each other. Every year as I walk through sessions during camp and see a girl helping her neighbor, you would have never guessed that she learned how to program a robot to go forward in RobotC just five minutes earlier!
 
 
This summer (2013) we ran two camps and reached 80 girls! The two weeks were divided into two levels, levels one and two. Each week offered different activities for the girls, but both focused on hands-on activities. Using short, intense learning activities and multiple topic transitions the girls were introduced to a variety of STEM-related topics.
 
Activities included safety, the importance of communication, logic gates and how information can be processed. There were projects using CAD software to design items that were then built from both a 3-D printer and a laser cutter. Then there were the programming topics: learning binary as a second language, controlling robots in NXTG and RobotC, creating a game with Gamemaker, and building a web page with HTML. Other hands-on activities included soldering onto a printed circuit board and delving into computer hardware. And more! 
 
On the first day the girls learn many electronic components through Electronic BINGO. 
 
Our second week had 17 activities. These classes were oriented at enhancing the girls’ experiences and knowledge. Topics included robot and sensor programming through auto shop, CAD software to design jewelry pieces to be cut on the laser cutter, cookie cutters to be printed on a 3-D printer, soldering, Gamemaker to develop multi-level games of expanding complexity, Arduino to control LED light actions, the physics involved in building and testing bridges, and more!
 
 
Many of the girls' favorite activity was soldering. The girls pictured above are soldering together a Simon Says kit that they will take home at the end of the week. Every girl was successful in making theirs work!
 
We had inspiring guest speakers from industry sharing their story and giving advice.
 
This past summer during the camps, one girl told me, 
 
“Before this camp I didn’t really think I was smart, but now I know that I can get it, and I can understand things, I am smart.” 
 
The excitement and the empowerment of her realization was breath-taking. This is only one of several examples. This makes me proud that the girls realize the potential that they really have.
 
 
Above two girls are changing a tire for the first time!
 
My favorite activity from this past year was robot programming with an automotive twist. I grew up helping my dad fix the car, from changing the oil to changing the brake pads. I wanted to prove to the girls that robots are all around us in everyday life, and what is the perfect example of that? A car! The sensors are the inputs, then there is the ‘brain’ of the car, and finally the outputs of the motors and air conditioning for those hot days.
 
By the end of the camp the girls accomplished many amazing things including changing a tire for the first time. I asked if any of the girls had ever changed a tire and out of 40 girls only one girl raised her hand! 
 
 
Above I am sharing with a group of the girls what a real piston and chamber looks like in a car. By the end of the day they could tell you themselves!
 
Our written surveys and interviews verify that most girls don’t sign up for tech-related classes.  Most girls are signed up by parents or coaxed into coming by their friends. With that said, by the end of the week every girl leaves with confidence in themselves and their abilities in STEM. 
 
 
From left to right: Jill Eiland, Aubrey Clark, Savannah, Lisa Neal-Graves, and Chelsea Hossaini
 
This transformation Girls Get IT! empowers girls that otherwise would have been missed and possibly never realized their potential in technology. 57% of STEM majors decide in high school; I knew since 5th grade. One week of positive activities with STEM ignites that spark in the girl that may design the next big thing for computers, or may launch the next mission to space, or even become an engineering teacher reaching kids and inspiring them to follow their passion making the world a better place.
 
This camp would not be possible without a lot of hard work from several people, especially Jim Fister, a mentor and long time supporter of the camps, Mr. Domes my technology teacher from Hillsboro High School who allowed us to use the facility and has always been supportive, and my mom who, without her encouragement, I would not believe that anything is possible. Thank you! 
 
 
Without opportunities I never would have found my passion in technology. I look back on my experiences and a huge part of encouragement has been the community support. And as I look closer I see Intel’s role in providing both funding and volunteers towards opportunities for kids such as myself.  With their help, Girls Get IT! has empowered over 230 girls and we are looking forward to expanding and providing more girls with opportunities to feel confident in STEM.
 
I am excited to see where Girls Get IT! is going next and am filled with joy that it is continuing even after I leave for college. I look forward and congratulate Ashley on the great job that she is going to do.
 
 
I am involved because of the opportunities.  I have stayed because of the support from mentors. I am continuing because it is my passion to make a difference to advance and empower other girls and women.