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CyberGirlz Assemble at UW-Whitewater

Christina Outlay, associate professor of information technology and supply chain management, has a mission, but it is not secret. She is helping develop a new generation of tech superheroes through the CyberGirlz camp program. With a disproportionately small number of women in IT and computing careers, Outlay is doing what she can to spark girls’ interest in these STEM fields.

The 2017 CyberGirlz camp was held July 18th and 19th at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade girls flooded the campus with their excitement and laughter. They had the opportunity to experience classrooms and labs in Hyland Hall, get a taste of hardware, engineering and programming projects, and learn about tech careers.

Outlay’s energy is focused on building students up and encouraging them not to let obstacles become roadblocks.

Seventh-grade students, enjoying the "Parent Dectector" activity in a Hyland Hall computer lab. (©UW-Whitewater/Craig Schreiner)

Seventh-grade students enjoy building a “Parent Detector” video system. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)

As the seventh-graders kicked off the “Parent Detector” project using hand-held Raspberry Pi computers, infrared motion sensors, and Python programming, she reminded them, “If something goes wrong, we fix it. If we can’t fix it, we work around it. We don’t panic.”

Similar to previous years, each grade group had a slightly different agenda. They witnessed technology at work at the UWW TV/radio station, the CoBE media studio, and UW-Whitewater campus police station. They even went on a campus tour, visited a residence hall, and ate at Esker dining hall.

Learning modules included mobile app development, building and programming robots, Internet safety and security, computer hardware and software, Scratch and Python programming, introductions to HTML and CSS, and for the eighth-graders, a focus on entrepreneurship. The eighth-grade girls were asked to think of a business idea, and by the end of the two-day program, they created and presented a website for it.

A new addition to the camp program, meeperBOTS, was a runaway favorite with the girls. Meeper Technology, located in Whitewater, Wisconsin, develops fun, engaging toys that encourage STEM activities like robotics and coding.

Ancha Barry reacts to a meeperBOT vehicle she and her sister are operating at Cybergirlz technology camp. (©UW-Whitewater/Craig Schreiner)

Ancha Barry reacts to a meeperBOT vehicle she and her sister are operating at CyberGirlz technology camp. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)

CEO Liz Eversoll introduced Meeper Technology and the project to the girls, while Meghan Konopacki and Brayden Mitchell helped them pair and control the meeperBOTS. Eversoll explained the breadth of expertise required to make a tech product like meeperBOTS, and connected this to the wide range of STEM careers.

She related, “I was the only female in many of my college computer science classes. It’s wonderful to see dozens of girls excited about robotics, coding, and building. It’s important we foster and grow this interest in STEM so that these young girls can design, code and build our next generation of products providing an important perspective and input that is lacking today. Girls with STEM skills will also realize the economic benefits of tech careers and help fill our national tech skills gap.”

Describing the girls’ reception of the activity, Outlay said, “At the start of the second day of camp, we always ask the girls to review the activities from the previous day. When asked what their favorite activity was, the girls enthusiastically shouted out, ‘meeperBOTS!’”

When asked about her future plans for the CyberGirlz program, Outlay shared, “CyberGirlz is supported largely through sponsorship and donations. One of our goals is to make sure that the camp is financially sustainable for many years to come, especially as we add upgraded technologies and greater staffing needs each year, but still low-cost and accessible to as many girls as possible. I’m also focused on increasing the diversity of girls who attend the camp. Women are in short supply in the IT field; women of color are even more rare. Finally, my biggest goal is to get and keep the girls excited about IT and coming back each year — hopefully, enough for them to foster that love of computing through high school and college, and ultimately, into an IT career.”

The CyberGirlz program began at UW-Whitewater in 2008, and Outlay has run the program since Fall 2015. Outlay’s passion projects also include colorcoded, which strives to increase the number of minority and low-income youth participating in computing. As recently as 2014, women represented only 26 percent of the computing workforce; minority women represent less than four percent.

©UW-Whitewater/Craig Schreiner

UW-Whitewater senior Sonia Kalmogo, in purple shirt, high fives girls in her group at a CyberGirlz camp on Tuesday, July 18, 2017 in Hyland Hall after they assembled components of a computer on the desktop in the middle. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)

©UW-Whitewater/Craig Schreiner

Campers in CyberGirlz technology camp use toy bricks to build robotic vehicles on platforms provided by Meeper Technologies of Whitewater. (UW-Whitewater photo/Craig Schreiner)

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