Girls Coding camp teaches foundations for STEM careers

Girls from across Arkansas are participating in UA Little Rock's Girls Code Camp this summer.

Eighteen rising eighth- and ninth-grade girls in UA Little Rock’s Girls Coding Camp are learning skills that might come in handy for future STEM careers.

The Girls Coding Camp, made possible with a $10,000 sponsorship from Windstream, is a one-week annual residential camp now in its third year that aims to motivate academically prepared females to enter the fields of computer science, information science, or web design. The camp concluded Friday, July 27, with an open house at 10 a.m. in the Engineering and Information Technology Student Services Lab on the first floor of the EIT building.

This year’s participants were selected from schools statewide based on essay, grades, test scores, and recommendations. Schools represented include Forest Heights Stem Academy, Lisa Academy West, Lisa Academy Middle School, Episcopal Collegiate and Pulaski Academy, all in Little Rock; Benton Middle School; Haas Hall Rogers in Bentonville; Lincoln Junior High School in Centerton; Cotter Public Schools; Jacksonville Middle School; Perryville High School; Watson Chapel Junior High School in Pine Bluff; Sheridan Junior High School; Warren Middle School; and West Junior High School in West Memphis.

For the past week, the girls have spent their mornings in the classroom with Thomas Wallace,  senior instructor of information science and UA Little Rock’s coordinator of the Web Design and Development program and information technology minor.

“Our focus has been on the web stack of three core technologies: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript,” Wallace said. “Each day we focus on a different layer. The afternoons are for lab, and that’s where they get to apply the skills they have learned.”

The girls each chose a web project to work on this week.

Lesleigh Sullivan, an eighth-grade student at Episcopal Collegiate School, has been creating a biography page for her project. She is co-captain of her school’s robotics team and will be involved with VEX Club this fall. She attend last year’s coding camp and wanted to return this summer to advance her skills.

“This year, I learned about HTML, which I’ve never done before,” she said. “It was nice learning a new technology.”

The girls stay in on-campus housing during the week, so they also get a taste of what it’s like to be on a college campus. Earlier this week, they took a field trip to Windstream, where they visited labs to see how networking equipment is tested.

In addition to hands-on instruction, the girls attend “Girl Talk” seminars featuring female professionals to learn more about opportunities available for females in computer and information science.   

Girls in UA Little Rock's Girls Coding Camp tour Windstream
The girls tour Windstream.

“It’s nice to know there are so many women in STEM fields who are setting the path for us so we can do something better,” said Emily Ye, an incoming eighth-grader at Forest Heights STEM Academy.

One of the featured speakers was UA Little Rock alumna Christina Copley, who is head of information technology systems transformation for Windstream’s Consumer and Small Business Division.

Copley attended the University of Central Arkansas where she began a major in kinesiology, thinking she wanted to be a coach. Then, she took an elective course in the Information Technology program and loved it.

“I thought there would be more opportunities for me there, so I switched majors,” Copley said.

She started working at Alltel as a data warehousing intern and continued working for the

company while she took night classes at UA Little Rock to earn her MBA in 2014.

The girls asked Copley all sorts of questions: How many coding languages do you know? When you were our age, did you think you would be a stay-at-home mom? Do you think your job is different because you’re a woman?

Then, finally, they stumped her: “Who is your favorite Chris?” (Chris Pine, Chris Evans, or Chris Hemsworth?)

“They were not shy and I like that,” Copley said. “When I was in eighth grade, I didn’t know any women in IT. It wasn’t clear to me that was even a path. These STEM programs are important for girls to know there are options. Now is the age when you plant the seed.”


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