Gems Camp Encourages Young Women’s Interest in Computer Science
With generous support from CS @ ILLINOIS alumni, the department once again sponsored the weeklong Gems: Computer Science Camp for Middle and High School Girls at Siebel Center during the summer. Nearly 140 girls participated in three separate camps—each offered twice and at no cost to participants—that showcased how computer science applies to other interesting fields.
According to Heather Zike, CS undergraduate academic advisor and Gems manager, the girls learned how computing impacts the arts, fashion, and game design. They also interacted with dynamic undergraduate students, who developed and taught the fun, hands-on curricula for each session with help from CS Lecturer Cinda Heeren.
CS students Sylvia Haas, Mylene Haus, Laura Licari, Aashna Makkar, Lily Sellers, and Robin Sheong not only led the instruction but also served as mentors for the participants. “Through our interactions, we showed [the girls] that we’re like them—we watch Teen Wolf, paint our nails—but we also do computer science,” said Haas, who participated in GEMS six years ago when it was managed by NCSA on campus and run, in part, by men. “The girls could see us as role models.”
The undergraduate leaders challenged the girls with activities such as learning to program in Java Script, designing their own computer games and animations, and making LED bracelets and images that were printed on canvas bags. The whole teaching process had a big impact on CS junior Sheong.
“This was the first time that I actually got to design a curriculum from the ground up, which was both challenging and rewarding,” Sheong said. “It was a joy to see the campers get engaged in creating games of their own, and I was so glad when I heard that they wanted to continue working on their projects even after GEMS. I hope that the campers learned as much from me as I’ve learned from them.”
The Gems camp was held at Siebel Center, and all the participants enjoyed social activities like bowling, roller skating, and a trip to the local apple orchard. Overall, Zike said the camp was a resounding success. CS @ ILLINOIS plans to expand the program next summer to include opportunities for even more middle school girls, and plans are in the works to develop a camp for high school girls.
“I want to help grow the outreach with Gems and other programs,” Zike said. “Every kid is interested in some form of technology, so we can show them how to apply computer science to their interests.”