By Bonnie Dickson

DAVIS, Calif., July 28, 2017 – A popular UC Davis robotics camp that teaches middle school girls how to code is expanding, and will soon offer an advanced-level camp for high school girls.

Harry Cheng, a UC Davis professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is the director of the UC Davis Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education (C-STEM). Cheng started the C-STEM Girls in Robotics Leadership (GIRL) Camp in 2013. The goal of the camp is to motivate girls to learn STEM concepts through a hands-on robotics-based curriculum and peer mentoring.

This year the GIRL Camp expanded to Cincinnati, the first time the program has been adopted outside of California since it began. Cheng is also developing curriculum for the advanced C-STEM GIRL+ Camp, which will launch next summer at UC Davis.

The GIRL Camp leadership team will help Cheng develop next year’s first GIRL+ Camp at UC Davis. The group of undergraduate students is led by Michaela Byrd, a third-year international relations major at UC Davis and the GIRL Camp program’s coordinator. Byrd has played a leading role in organizing GIRL Camps at other sites in California.

Hannah Maravelias, a third-year biological systems engineering major at UC Davis, is an assistant head coach on the camp’s leadership team. She applied to be a GIRL Camp coach because the mission of the camp resonated with her. Like many of the program’s young participants, Maravelias has always gravitated towards math and science.

“I know that some girls feel the same draw to these subjects, and will ignore it because it’s not the easiest or most acceptable route to take,” Maravelias says. “Hopefully the camp will help change that for some.”

Maravelias says her favorite part of the GIRL Camp is watching campers grow more confident with their peers and their coding abilities. Fellow coach and leadership team member Hailey Falk, a third-year UC Davis mechanical engineering student, agrees.

“It is so inspiring to see young girls picking up on robotics so quickly, and loving it so much,” Falk says.

In addition to providing technical guidance to the girls during camp, the leadership team serve as mentors and role models. The GIRL Camp also encourages camp graduates to return as assistant coaches when they reach high school. Cheng says fostering the peer-mentoring aspect of the program is an important part of the GIRL Camp.

“This is a very critical time for these girls since now is the time that they’re building their record for the future,” Cheng says.

GIRL Camp graduates Malaysia Hilliard and Katrina Cole both volunteered as assistant coaches this year. The high school juniors from American Canyon have been involved in the C-STEM program since they were in elementary school and have played a central role in advancing C-STEM curriculum at their high school.

Cheng hopes to recruit GIRL Camp graduates like Hilliard and Cole for the first GIRL+ Camp next year. Like GIRL Camp, the advanced GIRL+ Camp will be free to participants.

The GIRL+ Camp program is also recruiting new coaches and assistant coaches, as well as education and industry sponsors for the new camp. Additional information is available on the UC Davis C-STEM website.

“I like putting something into a computer and seeing how much I’m capable of – I just want to keep learning more and see where it takes me.”  Neyha Thandi, 8th grade, Elk Grove, Calif.

Photos by Bonnie Dickson and Harry Cheng/UC Davis

Related: UC Davis Robotics Camp for Girls Continues to Grow
Visit the UC Davis C-STEM Flickr for additional photos from this year’s GIRL Camp.