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Second CodeGirls@Argonne Camp Held
August 15, 2018

Many middle school students spend their summers swimming at the beach, playing sports outside or hanging out with their friends. But this past June, 25 seventh and eighth grade girls spent two days at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory learning how to code.

Joseph Insley of the ALCF shows high-resolution images generated from simulated data in the facility’s Visualization Lab. Credit: Image by Argonne National Laboratory.

This was the second year of the laboratory’s CodeGirls@Argonne camp, designed to immerse young girls in computer science before they enter high school and introduce them to potential career paths in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Researchers from the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility, helped the camp bring computer science to a population that’s often underrepresented in the field.

“It is important for girls — especially those in the very influenceable middle school years — to see role models who look like them, who talk like them and who they can easily relate to,” said Jini Ramprakash, a CodeGirls volunteer and Deputy Director of the ALCF. “They can visualize what success looks like for them in this profession.”

The camp is completely free — though a waitlist is started after the first 25 applications have been received — and there is no coding experience required. “Some of them have never done any coding before, some of them are high-flyers in coding,” said Kelly Sturner, Argonne Learning Center Instructor in the Department of Educational Programs, who designed and organized the camp. “But there is something for everybody here.”

“Sometimes, when you think of coding, you think of just some guys sitting in their basement,” said Paige Brehm, a Master’s co-op student in Educational Programs. “But it’s way more than just that.” Having studied chemistry as an undergraduate, Brehm had her own doubts about being a female in a STEM field, and that experience informed her work when she and Sturner organized CodeGirls for the first time last year.

According to information, throughout the two days of the camp, the middle schoolers learned about the many facets of computer science and working in STEM. The girls were shown videos that taught them about the history of women in computing, and they discussed the challenges that come with entering a male-dominated field. They participated in a variety of programming-related activities, including using block code to navigate a Lego EV3 Mindstorm robot through a complicated maze. “The goal is really to get the kids to think like computer scientists,” said Sturner.

Sturner hopes to see CodeGirls alumnae participating in the high school-level summer coding camp, a program that Educational Programs runs in partnership with ALCF, when they are old enough. But the main goal of these two days is to inspire and empower the girls to give computer science a try — and perhaps lead them back to Argonne one day.

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