~About 50 area middle school girls introduced to STEM careers~The showcase of sustainability projects was well attended. Entering this room, visitors went through a makeshift “portal” and entered into the year 2030.
The Verizon Innovative Learning (VIL) program for girls wrapped up a three-week summer camp while showcasing their projects at Paul D. Camp Community College’s Regional Workforce Development Center.
Last year, the community college was among only five piloting the program in rural areas throughout the country in partnership with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship.
While explaining the 3-D printer to visitors, Akelzah Saunders, 13, of Smithfield Middle and Elnesha Lewter of J.P. King Jr. Middle both liked working with the equipment and said they may be heading toward a career in STEM.
“I like the 3-D experience — how it works and making our own creations,” said Saunders.
The 2018 participants are from middle, home and Rock Church schools in all of PDCCC’s service regions, which are comprised of Isle of Wight and Southampton counties, and the cities of Franklin and Suffolk.
“I had a lot of great experiences,” said Smithfield Middle School student Brianna Carter, 13, about the summer camp. “I learned a lot about engineering, coding and so much more.”
During the camp, which got underway in mid-July, the participants were introduced to various topics each day, which included virtual and augmented reality, coding, 3-D design, entrepreneurship, design thinking principles, as well as female mentors.
“When parents came in to visit, they also had to explain to about 100 people what they were working on and what they had learned,” said VIL STEM Camp Director Teri Zurfluh. “They received experience in public speaking and presentation as well.”
The summer camp culminated with the showcase of projects created by the campers, some of which became newfound friends. The projects in the showcase identify and provide solutions to challenges in their community using technology, as in alignment with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“We took the girls on an “empathy tour,” said Zurfluh, “to get them to exercise that empathy muscle. Getting them into the communities to visit places like the Isle of Wight Animal Shelter and Franklin Cooperative Ministry helped them identify real-life issues about which they are passionate.” The girls also were enlightened about bullying from Dr. Sandra Walker at PDCCC in Suffolk.
Once again this year, the college partnered with KidsKab, which provided transportation for participants, and Cover 3 Foundation, which provided breakfast and lunch each day of the camp.
Eric Scott, Ellen Peterson, Keisha Nichols and Jason Gable served as instructors during the STEM camp. Brianna Peterson, a science major at William & Mary, volunteered her time helping the students to identify with historical women of science during Woman Crush Wednesdays.
Each day, the girls decompressed with an activity that was off curriculum. One of the mothers, Anita Falcone, volunteered to teach yoga. “This ended up being one of the most popular ‘makerspace’ activities,” said Zurfluh.
Girls will continue to meet one Saturday in each month for the rest of the year to build on what they have learned and will graduate in May 2019.
PDCCC is funded for the program for 2019-20 as well. The college’s Industrial Technology Instructor Keisha Nichols, who also taught during camp, will serve as director of the local program next year.
“We are looking forward to introducing a new group of girls to the wonders of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” she said. “We want to continue to change the statistics that reflect a low percentage of girls pursuing STEM careers.”
Akelzah Saunders of Smithfield Middle and Elnesha Lewter of JP King Jr. Middle in Franklin, both 13, right, explain how the 3D printer works to Akelzah’s mother, Shakeiria Williams, and sister, Akeira Saunders.
Skylar Bunn shows some of the shapes the girls made on the 3D printer using Tinkercad. She is the daughter of William and Heather Bunn of Franklin.
Brianna Carter of Smithfield Middle School, left, and Shelby Burton of Georgie D. Tyler Middle School used coding to create the game on display. Brianna is the daughter of Monique Gwaltney of Smithfield and Brian Carter of Newport News. Shelby is the daughter of Mary and William Burton of Windsor.