One WVU Tech student is working with female middle school students to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related careers, in a way different than most.
Recently a group of seventh-grade female students stood at one end of the hall at Collins Middle School in Oak Hill as they watched a small robot make hairpin turns as it navigated its way through a maze. When it came to a stop, the girls exchanged high fives all around.
They were celebrating their long day of work at the new “Girls Interested in Robotics Lego and Scratch” program.
GIRLS is a new camp program created and run by a WVU Tech computer science student, Jordan Bowen, teaching middle-school students about robotics and coding with LEGO-based robots and Scratch programming.
WVU Tech officials also claim the program is fertile ground for discussing computer science careers.
“We teach them the basics – algorithms and that sort of thing. Then they get to program robots, which they think is really fun,” Bowen said. “Then we talk about different careers in the computer science and robotics field and how robotics is used in the real world.”
According to WVU Tech officials, the topic was a hit with students like Kyndall Dooley as she celebrated a successful robot run alongside her teammates.
“We learned how to program a robot, which is a lot of coding. We made it complete a whole maze without touching any of the tape lines,” Dooley said.
Dooley said she wants to be an orthodontist one day, but GIRLS gained her attention because she wanted to learn more about technology and coding.
Three days later, she was a confident coder, they said.
“Programming is really fun, and I wanted to learn how to do it better. It’s great, even though it’s a challenge,” Dooley said.
Bowen grew up in Boone County, and said she had no clue what she wanted to study when she got to college.
“I didn’t pick a career field until my senior year in high school, and that was only because I had to,” she said.
She got lucky, though. She chose computer science and found a deep fascination with the devices and programs that impact so much of our lives. Even so, she thinks she would have been better prepared if there was a program like GIRLS in her neighborhood.
She was able to make an easy decision, though. After seeking out a degree in computer science, Bowen found a deep fascination with the devices and programs that have the potential to impact so many lives. She claimed she thinks she would have been better prepared if there was a program like GIRLS in her neighborhood.
“I think if I had a camp like this, I would have discovered my interest in this field much earlier and I could have spent more time planning for it,” she said.
Bowen also served as a camp counselor for WVU Tech’s Camp STEM and STEM Summer Academy for Girls programs.
She said both of those programs showed her the impact of being exposed to STEM at an early age.
“I realized that I wanted to help as many children as I could,” Bowen said.
After applying for funding through the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), she received it.
She said NCWIT liked the idea of the program because it’s a hybrid, meaning there are four face-to-face days and a project to be completed online.
According to WVU Tech officials, students are given a project online through Google’s CS First platform. In the fall, the program team will return to the school to watch presentations from the students.
There’s even a component designed to get parents involved.
Those components are designed to keep the momentum of the camp going, and Bowen claimed she saw plenty of momentum in those days at Collins Middle School.
“At first, students were pretty interested in their phones. By the second or third day, we’re working with the robots and they get excited about coding, so they start working ahead on their own. That’s how they’re learning, and I think seeing them find that interest and having fun while doing it is so rewarding,” she said.
When asked what single concept she wanted students in GIRLS to leave with, Bowen’s said “they have the ability to do these types of careers, even if they don’t think they can or that it looks too complicated. They truly do have the ability to do whatever they want.”
WVU Tech officials reported Bowen has applied for additional funding to expand GIRLS further into Raleigh and Fayette counties as an after-school program.