School of EECS hosts two summer camps for girls with national participation


By Sarah Small

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — This summer, as in several previous summers, the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) hosted two camps geared toward middle- and high-school girls. This year, however, the camps were able to welcome participants from California to Pennsylvania and many places in between, thanks to the virtual nature of the camps.

“It was a Zoom camp, which has limitations, but it did allow us to have campers from California, Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland and all over the state of Pennsylvania,” said Tim Kane, professor of electrical engineering and faculty leader of the Anything is POssible for Girls in Electrical Engineering (APOGEE) camp. “Having the best outreach ever was my favorite success story this year!”

The APOGEE camp, held from July 19-23 and open to anyone entering seventh through 12th grades, had a record number of participants this year. As in previous years, the camp focused broadly on wearable technology, with projects tailored to each individual to make sure that returning campers could build on their experience in previous years while new campers could also learn and benefit from the activities.

The camp organizers found creative ways to maintain the hands-on nature of the event even though it was conducted via Zoom. In particular, the girls participated in scavenger hunts around their respective homes, designed their own objects to 3D print, worked with the Circuit PlayGround Express from Adafruit, and were introduced to soldering and maker skills.

Kane commented that some of the most positive feedback for the camp came in the form of who was participating and under what circumstances.

“One camper has been with us all four years so far, while another returned from last year,” he said. “A parent from out West was impressed that their daughter was starting camp every morning at 6 a.m. their time.”

The camp was sponsored in part by IEEE Central Pennsylvania Chapter, Lockheed Martin and ThorLabs, all of which contributed either financial support or kits and materials.

The Game Makers, Game Changers: Computer Science and Engineering Camp for Girls was held from June 21-25 and open to anyone entering seventh through ninth grades. The camp participants used games such as Minecraft to learn computer science and engineering basics. They also learned to teach an agent to play games like Pong using reinforcement learning and how to play games like Quarto through multi-modal dialogues.

“Each day of the camp, we had guest speakers representing women in computer science whose topics thematically related to the activities and topics for the day,” said Rebecca Passonneau, professor of computer science and engineering and one of the faculty leaders for the camp. “I invited women at all career stages, from graduate student to distinguished professors.”

Passonneau added that while doing a virtual camp had its challenges, the camp organizers were able to overcome them to create a successful camp experience.

“The counselors had a lot of creative ideas and suggestions about how to manage the virtual environment,” she said. “We used breakout rooms for activities, the counselors were very fun with the campers, and we did ice-breaker exercises every day.”

The School of EECS plans to host both camps again next year, most likely in person.


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