Every summer, the UC Berkeley campus hosts more than 100 kids at its Girls in Engineering (GiE) camp, which introduces middle school students to engineering and design innovation. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, GiE’s leadership had to quickly reformat the program to an online experience. But this unexpected pivot gave them the chance to reimagine the camper experience from the ground up.
Because GiE seeks out students who don’t normally have access to specialized STEM activities, program staff were concerned that they would lose their target demographic — those students who need it the most. So for the first time since its pilot phase, the GiE camp was offered free of charge to all participants. Chromebooks and WiFi hotspots were provided to students who didn’t have computers, and kits of supplies were made available at no cost. An additional week was added, and campers had access to all five sessions.
“Our decision to make the camp free stems from the fact that the families in our target demographic are the ones most severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and removing this financial barrier ensures they’re able to participate,” said GiE program director Anne Mayoral. “In addition, many of these families are not equipped to access an online camp experience, so providing the tools and technology was critical for their participation.”
In all, 111 campers attended the online camp. The curriculum included virtual tours of research labs, Q&As with researchers, outdoor experiences and activities focused on fabrication skills, prototyping, building and making.
“Every day, our goal [was] to infuse the campers with a little more confidence and a little more love of STEM learning; to pique their curiosity just enough that they’ll want to take it to the next step,” Mayoral said.