Girls Exploring Math and Science

The gender balance in the science fields has been evolving progressively- 57% of all undergraduate degrees are obtained by women as are 52% of all math and science undergraduate degrees according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. However the individual fields don’t all see such equal distribution. Computer science turns out the fewest female undergrads with 18% of degrees going to women.

Its these statistics that motivate young women like Briana Chapman. A sophomore from Mahomet, Illinois, she’s been involved with the Girls Engaged in Math and Science camp since she attended herself in 6th grade. The camp is an outreach program through the Siebel Center for Computer Science that has been encouraging middle school girls to get excited about computer science since 1994. It operates at no cost to the campers, and draws a waiting list as high as 100 girls this year.

Briana Chapman

Chapman serves as the camp coordinator-she is on the forefront of curriculum planning, booking guest speakers and applying for funding to ensure that the program remains free and worthwhile. This year the camp was awarded money from The National Center for Women & Information Technology thanks to Chapman’s effort. She allotted the money to Nexus 7 tablets so the girls could create Android Apps. It was also her influence that shaped this year’s program around sustainability in the food industry- a theme that compelled the girls to be more socially aware and got them thinking logically about problem solving with real world issues.

Chapman and her fellow counselors did an exemplary job this year of getting girls to relate creativity and social activism to computer science. Take a look inside Chapman’s camp below.

We’ve seen girls go from uninterested/their parents made them come, to enthusiastically planning the next great startup with a friend, and shooting their hand up for every discussion question. In our lab, nervous silence from the first day of camp is a huge contrast to the laughing, chatting, and proud smiles at the app open house at the end of the week. We got many survey responses like, ‘Before I came to GEMS, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Now I want to become a software developer.’ or ‘GEMS is what made me want to go into CS and it made me want to use my skills to help other people.'” – Chapman

“When the camp is all girls, the participants feel free to be goofy. It gives our camp a more fun ‘sleepover party’ feel and I really love the bonding we witness.” – Chapman

“I designed the GEMS 2013 program to have a theme which linked computing with sustainability in the food industry. Using social activism as “bait” acquainted the girls with new social issues while simultaneously introducing them to possible solutions through computing.” – Chapman

Parent Testimonials

“My daughter’s putting herself to bed early every night to be sure to be at GEMS on time!”

“GEMS sparked an interest in CS and made her think about using technology to solve world problems.”

“My daughter and I have been talking for hours every evening– I can’t tell you how long it’s been since we’ve talked for hours! She’s just so excited about what she’s doing.”

“GEMS helped remove some of the magic and mystery of computing for my daughter, making the use of computing seem attainable, useful and something she was capable of.”

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