Girls Gaining Interest In Science

Every scientist starts somewhere.  For twenty-five teen and pre-teen girls, that somewhere may be placing microchips on a handful of Monarch butterflies, and tracking their fright from Toronto to Mexico.  One of these girls may grow up to design her own micro-RFID chip, thanks to the IBM Toronto Lab.

The Markham, Ontario tech company has been running an annual summer program called EXCITE, or Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering.  EXCITE is geared toward girls from twelve to thirteen years old, encouraging them to expand their interest in engineering and technology, and causing the momentum of inspiration to keep them engaged in the sciences in high school and beyond.

Teachers and counselors choose and invite female seventh- and eighth-grade students to the camp based on their participation and aptitude in their classes.  Sarah Navqi, the co-chair of Toronto’s EXCITE Camp, explains the program’s design to provide young girls with positive female role models in engineering and technological settings.  In addition, EXCITE’s focus is to plant the seeds of hands-on learning tactics, and inspire the participants to consider and seek technology careers.

Along with the microchipped butterfly experiment, this year’s activities included a project to build robots out of Lego blocks and program them to dance.  They also used GPS to go on a scavenger hunt for film canisters filled with quiz questions and stickers, used the Scratch 3D programming language and its graphics interface to create cartoon animations, examined the DNA of bananas, and explored new areas of green technology.

Navqi eagerly anticipates the program each year, as a rewarding counterpoint to her regular responsibilities as a software support engineer.  “We see the results down the road,” she said, “when you see girls who have been through the program for several years and are pursuing education in these areas.  It’s something fun for everyone involved.”  A real benefit, in her estimation, is countering the declining enrollment of females in the fields of engineering and technology.

EXCITE Camp has no required amount of technical background or expertise to enroll, which is a relief for some of the girls who were not initially very interested in the sciences.  Indigo, who participated in the program this year, developed a newfound interest in engineering and technology gained through the camp.  “I want to do it again next year with some of my other friends, because I think they would enjoy it too,” she shared.

Shimirma, another camper, also had her eyes opened, learning that technology is more fun than she had given it credit for being.  “I used to have that weird impression that they were geeks behind a computer with the big glasses and everything,” she said, “but that’s changed.

Wini Mark, co-chair of EXCITE Camp alongside Navqi and a software developer in her own right, celebrates the benefits of the camp for its participants.  The feedback they get from the girls is very positive, she said, and “they learn a lot from the camp.”

IBM Toronto has offered EXCITE for nine years running.  It is only one of several IBM Technology Camps worldwide that is geared toward the encouragement of junior-high school students to develop their interests in math, sciences, and tech and engineering.

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