The digital divide narrows at VIL STEM Camp for Girls

Published 5:37 pm Thursday, September 12, 2019

Skylar Hamlin, pictured, partnered on a project with Tara Darden titled, “The Daily Breeze.” The concept was a solar-powered fan that automatically starts when the engine is off and cools the interior of a vehicle for the preservation of groceries or lifesaving measures for children and pets. — Submitted Wendy Harrison

By Desiree P. Urquhart


On July 15, Camp Community College kicked off its third Verizon Innovative Learning STEM Summer Camp with 55 girls from area middle schools. Piloted in 2017 in partnership with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, Camp was a charter participant along with four other community colleges chosen from across the nation to introduce rising sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls in rural areas to science, technology, engineering and math skills.

I interviewed two students among this summer’s campers — Skylar Hamlin (11, Southampton Middle, Courtland) and Sierra Hedgepeth (12, Georgie Tyler Middle, Windsor) — to find out what motivated them to seek the free enrollment in this camp and to uncover what their respective interests are in STEM.

DPU: How did you find out about the VIL STEM Camp at Paul D. Camp Community College?

Skylar: My Nana told me that my cousin was interviewing at her school for a camper position and said that I should check it out. I had seen the flyer, plus I was looking for something to do over the summer because I didn’t want to be bored. I love meeting people anyway, so I applied and got accepted.

Sierra: My mom told me to check to see if my guidance counselor at my school had any forms for the camp and that I should think about enrolling. I read the courses they would be teaching. I had done virtual reality before but not 3D printing. I really wanted to do that.

Aja Smith, 10, of Franklin, from left, Charlene Sanderson, 12, of Windsor, and Amariyanna Williams, 11, of Courtland, operating Ollie robots with their tablets.  — Submitted Wendy Harrison

DPU: Do you like science and technology?

Skylar: Yes, I love, love, love experiments. I’ve been doing them with my cousin since we were little girls. My Grandma only wanted to watch old black-and-white shows on TV. Since we couldn’t watch the Nickelodeon and the Disney channels, we would go outside to dig in the dirt. When I was in the fifth grade, we used to do fossil digs with chocolate chip cookies. The goal was to dig out the chocolate chips without breaking up the cookies. I also love blowing stuff up. (She makes a loud boom sound with her voice and mimics an explosion with her arms). In second grade, I saw an experiment done on TV where they put Mentos in a bottle of Coke. The blast gave me a huge rush!

Sierra: Yes, science is fun. You can do projects that craft old stuff into newer things. I learned to read rain gauges from my grandfather who has them all over his garden to measure the amount of water the plants were using. I take the measurements for him every time we go to visit. It’s my fun job I love to do.

DPU: What do you hope to learn from this VIL STEM Camp experience?

Skylar: 3D Printing; Virtual Reality; 360 videography, and architecture to learn how to build a house.

Sierra: I want to learn practical uses of technology like how to use technology in real life. Stuff like the rain gauge, which is a scientific tool that my Dada uses every day.

DPU: Have you made any new friends? Do you have any relationships with them outside of camp?

Skylar: Absolutely; a lot. I knew everybody in this camp by the end of the first week! I was a little nervous at first, so I spent time listening to others’ conversations, especially in the classrooms. I can figure out a personality in the first five seconds. If they act nice, talk with others, laugh, say “hello,” I know that’s a good person. I text message many of them every day. Also, on my first day, I saw signs that read, “Good, Better, Best; Don’t rest until your good is better and your better is the best.” I knew right away this was the place for me because this is what my daddy has been saying to me for years. I didn’t have a clue where he got this from. I know he hadn’t been to this camp, so I figured it was a sign from God that this is a place that’ll have girls I wanna be around.

Sierra: Yes, I’m usually shy, but once I started talking to a few girls here at the camp, they seemed happy and it made me feel comfortable. Now I FaceTime a few of them. We’ve been talking about doing a sleep-over. Not sure if I’m ready to spend the night at someone else’s house who’s not a relative. But my mother said I could have these new friends over to my house to hang out. Mom’s even offered to drive us to camp if they spend the night during the week.

DPU: Why do you think it’s important for girls to feel comfortable with or to excel in math and science?

Skylar: Let me tell you something. I have found that authority figures usually don’t recognize girls for their bright minds. Boys get all of the attention for little things. What is that all about?

Sierra: Boys are taught more about technology. I’m doing a gender equality project on sustainable development that will be shown at the presentation Expo on the last day of camp. I’m excited!

DPU: Have you ever felt intimidated by working with boys on math or science projects?

Skylar: Boys don’t scare me. I imagine them as being a girl; their gender doesn’t change what they can do.

Sierra: No way! I have an older brother that I hafta live with (laughs). I’m totally confident in myself.

DPU: What female scientist, engineer or mathematician do you most admire?

Skylar: Ms. [Faith] Hewett, my math and science teacher. She always tells me that I need to act how I would want someone to treat me. Also my Nana, who is my personal “Google” and “Alexa.” She knows everything! And my mom, who can solve a math problem in a jiffy!

Sierra: My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. [Nicole] White, who is a great math teacher. Also my science teacher who did amazing experiments with chemicals.

DPU: Tell me about something you’ve dreamed of inventing.

Skylar: I wanna design and build a house in a box and then give them out to the homeless. It may be difficult but I love facing challenges and being a winner. I can handle losing because I use it as a new challenge to win.

Sierra: (Her face lights up with excitement as she takes a deep breath and leans back in her chair). I love animals and I wanna build cages for them that have telescoping side bars that’ll create extra space inside as they grow. Yep, that’s been a dream invention of mine!

If Skylar’s and Sierra’s thirsts for learning STEM subjects and dreams of designing and building unique inventions are any indication of the narrowing of the digital divide, then there is hope for the future that girls will be able to interact with transformative technologies that will make serious differences in the world.

DESIREE P. URQUHART is the grants coordinator for Camp Community College. She can be reached at 569-6789 or