Students Learn Tech Skills at Windstream Girls Code Camp

Students attending the Windstream Girls Code Camp at UA Little Rock visit CJRW in Little Rock.

Seventeen rising eighth- and ninth-grade students spent a week learning about coding skills to prepare them for future careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields.

The girls coding camp, made possible with a sponsorship from Windstream, is a one-week annual residential camp that aims to motivate academically prepared females to enter the fields of computer science, information science, or web design. The program is free to participants and is now open to boys.

This year’s participants included Axel Birdsong, Keya Choudhary, Eja Gatewood, Myah Henry, Ashlee Hill, Khylee Houston, Jalil Jeanpierre, Ava John, Mitchell Knox, Maeher Kumar, Zora McCall, India McCuien, Thomas Miller, Samidhi Mudalige, Anushka Thombre, Lilly Ye, and Brandon Zhang.

During the camp, which ended July 22, the students stayed in UA Little Rock’s on-campus housing to get a taste of what it’s like to be on a college campus. During the day, they worked 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. Participants learned about three coding languages (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) as well as web development and web design skills. They each worked throughout the week to create a hobby-based website.

Eja Gatewood, a student at Herndon High School in Virginia, used her new coding skills to create a website about octopuses, one of her favorite animals.

“I wanted to go to the camp because it’s got coding, and I am quite interested in coding,” Gatewood said. “Eventually I want to go into medicine or engineering, definitely something in STEM.”

Myah Henry, a student at eSTEM Charter High School, said she’s interested in pursuing a career in computer science or cybersecurity.

“I wanted to increase my knowledge of coding because it’s something I’ve been interested in since I was a kid,” Henry said. “My favorite activity was making the source code for HTML. I love to start with the foundation. The foundation is always the most important part of everything you do. I wanted to thank everyone who was here and helped me. They got me out of my comfort zone, and I learned a lot.”

In addition to hands-on instruction, the students attend “Girl Talk” seminars featuring female professionals to learn more about opportunities available for females in computer and information science. This year they heard from Windstream employees  Grace Ann Nordin, senior director of project management, and Brittney Shinn, senior consultant in customer experience, who spoke about their careers and what it’s like to work for a STEM-focused company.

The students also took a field trip to CJRW, an advertising agency in Little Rock, to learn about careers available in digital media, computer science, and technology.

Elizabeth Polk, a computer science graduate of UA Little Rock who has previously served as an assistant for the coding camp, now works as a lead web developer at CJRW. She challenged the students to brainstorm innovative ideas for apps to help pet owners.

“They came up with ideas like PetChart, which monitors a pet’s health, and PetPal, which monitors pets while they are home alone and sends a notification to their owner if they get sick or injured,” Polk said

The students then toured each of CJRW’s departments to learn how the advertising agency would develop and launch their apps if they were clients of CJRW.

“This camp gives students the opportunity to realize that there are many careers available in the creative industry,” Wallace said. “When they visited CJRW, I don’t think the kids realized what goes into developing and creating the digital products they use every day. It’s an eye-opening experience.”

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