First ever all-girl STEM Camp culminates in Community Expo

Published 9:19 am Wednesday, July 26, 2017

by Mary Ellen Gleason, Desirée Urquhart and Teri Zurfluh

Creating inspiration and pathways for women entering the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is the vision of Verizon’s Innovation Learning Program for Girls, and this vision is being realized for D’Miya King, Emily Hammond, Shynece Waters, Brianna Falcone, Aimee Corriea, Alexandra Mendiola, Juleesah Parker and 42 other local middle school girls attending the three-week kick-off camp at the Regional Workforce Center at Paul D. Camp Community College. This specialized STEM camp for girls will culminate with a Community Expo on Friday from 1 to 3 p.m.

ODU’s Dean of Engineering Dr. Stephanie Adams with Laney Phillips, left, and Gabrielle Johnson.

According to Teri Zurfluh, VIL STEM camp director, “We invite the public to join us to see the girls’ creative and futuristic projects that demonstrate their newfound skills in coding, digital storytelling, virtual and augmented reality, 3-D design and entrepreneurship.”

Verizon has never sponsored an all-girl STEM camp before, but this summer, only five rural community colleges in the entire country were identified by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship to pilot Verizon’s first effort in providing STEM education in a girls-only environment. This three-week camp will be followed by a year-long series of monthly events to continue developing these girls’ newfound STEM skills and abilities.

A visitor walking through the Workforce halls during this program sees girls wearing virtual reality goggles, remotely run miniature robots scooting about the halls operated by a pod of girls intently focused on that Ozobot with iPads in hand, and lots of eager faces engaged in technology and with each other.

Many of these girls didn’t know each other prior to attending camp, as they come from many area middle schools; yet, they have become good friends in a few short weeks. And all are eager to talk about what they are learning. 

D’Miya loves using Roller Coaster, a special virtual reality app. She has discovered that she enjoys coding.

“I love learning stuff about putting commands in computers,” D’Miya said.

VIL STEM campers, from left, Jasmine Brown, Alexandra Mendiola, Nakari Blunt (back row), Meghan Stephens, Daeja Bailey, Caitlin Bergin, and Brianna Falcone at International Space Station Conference in Washington, D.C., with NASA astronaut Dr. Cady Coleman; Dr. Elizabeth Blaber, USRA scientist at the Ames Research Center; and aerospace entrepreneur Craig Walton.

While sitting together at lunch, Emily, Shynece, Brianna, Aimee and Alexandra’s collective enthusiasm about their experiences at this STEM camp was unmistakable. Their favorite newfound skills were virtual reality, operating apps and coding with their iPads. They all mentioned their love for the 3-D printer, specifically working with the 3Doodler pens to create projects and manipulating the tiny filament with the pens.

Juleesah likes stories with pictures. She brought that interest to the camp with her and because of that interest, she likes Morphi, a 3-D model design and printing app. Juleesah learned to code from an app called Playground and while this might look like a fun game, she explained that the app teaches the user to code easily and enables her to create those stories she loves so well.

Multiple expert speakers infused this STEM camp with their knowledge and enthusiasm. They represented women ranging from university deans, CEOs, researchers and nationally recognized leaders in STEM.

Dr. Stephanie Adams, dean of Engineering at Old Dominion University, shared with the girls her goal of “making sure there are women engineers to take my place in the future,” and invited the girls to come to ODU in the fall to “just build stuff with me in my engineering lab.”

Dr. Trina Fletcher, a researcher and director of similar STEM camps for the National Association of Black Engineers all over the country, shared her “Rules for a Successful You,” outlining tips for success in any field of endeavor.

One CEO asked to speak to these “rising phenoms” when she saw the tweets of Ellen Peterson, the 3D Printing instructor, who was celebrating some early and hard-fought successes with Morphi. Sophia Georgiou, Morphi’s CEO, offered an impromptu talk with the girls and gave a tutorial on Morphi via Skype.

Zurfluh quipped, “It’s kinda like getting tips on using Microsoft from Bill Gates!”

While the girls had virtual field trips and visitors, they also traveled to the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton to explore STEM and space exploration, including demonstrations about materials engineering in deep cold space, interactive space exhibits, and a visit inside the Center’s Lunar Habitat. They even got to taste an “out of this world” treat: ice cream made with liquid nitrogen. A few girls also had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to attend the International Space Station R&D Conference at the Omni-Shoreham Hotel. They privately met with an astronaut, a scientist and a space entrepreneur; communicated with NASA astronauts in the International Space Station in a low orbit over Earth; and were interviewed by the media team from the Smart Girls organization founded by artist Amy Poehler and producer Meredith Walker.

Zurfluhed explains that the secret to the success of the program is the outstanding team of instructors and staff that have been working tirelessly to make this experience the best possible for these middle school girls: Travis Parker, assistant director; Desirée Urquhart, PDCCC grants coordinator; instructors Jason Gabel for Coding & Virtual Reality; Ellen Peterson for 3D Printing; Eric Scott and Keisha Nichols for Social Entrepreneurship and Digital Storytelling; and administrative assistant Danielle Stauffer.

The IT team of Mark Evans, Zak Wade and David Felton from PDC’s Computing Services rounds out the “dream team” that Zurfluh called, “one of the very best teams I’ve worked with in all my years at PDCCC.” 

Support extended beyond the “dream team.” Through Mr. Parker’s network of relationships, the camp was fortunate to forge community partnerships with two local entrepreneurs — Greg Scott of Cover 3 that provided daily healthy breakfasts and lunches for the girls, and Charles “C.C.” Cooper of Kids Kab that transported students to camp from and back to designated locations throughout Franklin City and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.

And this camp isn’t the end … it’s only the beginning.

“The challenge will be to maintain the excitement the girls have experienced during camp, while continuing to develop their interest and skills in STEM with continued monthly workshops and meaningful mentorships,” Zurfluh said. “We want Verizon and NACCE to say that we are the benchmark for all other all-girl STEM camps.”