A free, week-long summer camp concluding today at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) gave the region’s high school girls a chance to learn about technology in an environment free from the pressures of a typical classroom. Launched this year, the camp aimed to inspire girls to pursue a career in information technology or engineering—two fields traditionally dominated by men.

Girls “are underrepresented in those two disciplines. The idea is to get them interested before they get to college,” said Mark Pauley, one of the camp’s instructors and coordinators and a faculty member in UNO’s College of Information Science and Technology.

In a spiffy classroom at UNO’s Peter Kiewit Institute, 17-year-old Sarah Edwards said she is glad no boys were among her fellow students.

Boys speak up a lot, she said.

“When you have guys, you don’t talk as much,” Edwards said.

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Chavez said classes are more competitive with boys; in an all-girl class she can better focus on what she’s doing and not worry about what boys are saying.

Edwards and Chavez are two of the 15 girls who attended the free camp.

There is an apparent gender gap when it comes to studying computer technology in Nebraska. According to a recent survey of more than half the state’s public high schools, boys outnumber girls by more than three to one in computer technology courses.

The survey, conducted by the American Association of University Women of Nebraska and the Nebraska Commission on the Status of Women, indicated that only 23 percent of the 2,760 computer technology students counted were girls.

During the camp, the girls learned computer programming and designed, built, and programmed a Lego car, boat, and bridge—each with a controlling computer inside. They also visited a different lab each day and heard from female and minority faculty, said Pauley.

Chavez, who will be a sophomore at Omaha’s Benson High School, said she hoped the camp would help her decide what she wants for a future career. She said she is perhaps interested in computer-aided design.

“I used to think I wanted to be a pediatrician, but I don’t know where that went,” she said.

Pauley said fliers about the camp were sent out to all Omaha-area coed and all-girls’ high schools by the UNO College of Information Science and Technology and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Engineering and Technology.

The camp is funded through a federal grant and through the two colleges, Pauley said.

He said he thought everyone who applied was accepted. No prior computer or engineering experience was required.

Links:

University of Nebraska at Omaha
http://www.unomaha.edu

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
http://www.unl.edu