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Leah's Story

ORCSGirls is such a positive environment, and their mission is to inspire girls to pursue careers in computer science. I would like to share a few ways that ORCSGirls has inspired and empowered me.

I took my first ORCSGirls class as a fifth grader in 2019. The first day I walked in and saw about twenty or more girls all on computers. Before this time I had never met any girls my age that were interested in programming and computer science. I took my seat and listened as Dr. Proffen introduced himself. Then, all the volunteers shared about themselves, and we played a game. I could tell I liked this already.

We all opened CoSpaces, a website for building VR games. My knowledge of how to operate a computer came in handy, and we soon got to work making a treasure hunt game. Even though I already knew a little bit about programming, I will not deny that I needed a lot of help. Thankfully, the volunteers were very helpful, and I soon got the hang of the CoSpaces environment.

I left that class feeling awesome. As we walked out the doors of Roane State Community College, where the classes used to be held, I told my parents all about my experience. I described my game, and as soon as I got home I logged back on to CoSpaces to play it again. You probably would not be surprised to hear that I came back every week I could. Every class was a little bit different but just as much fun.

Sadly, ORCSGirls switched into an online-only environment when Covid started affecting the Tennessee area. I continued to take ORCSGirls classes, signing up for any I could. Surprisingly, ORCSGirls offered even more classes, clubs, and competitions during this weird time. I opened up to the girls in a different way online than when we were together in person. Building technology and social skills strengthened my character and prepared me for what I tried next.

During spring of sixth grade, I decided to enter a national competition called ProjectCSGirls. I was informed about this competition through ORCSGirls. The competition gave you several months to put together a project that can help others in some way. Since many of my neighbors and family were seniors, I wanted to make my project to help them, especially the ones living alone. My project was called the HD 8266. Appropriately named after its purpose “Help Device,” and the microcontroller that I created it with, the ESP8266. The user pressed a button to send instant text messages over an internet connection to as many phone numbers as specified on the corresponding website.

While the HD 8266 was very close to my heart, I was even more proud of my 2022 submission. I called it “Social Storybook,” because I designed it for children with language disorders. It was a VR game made with CoSpaces, (remember that?). After months of hard work, I was a national winner and received fourth place; I was so excited and happy. However, I could not have been a finalist either year without the help of Dr. Proffen and the entire ORCSGirls' community.

After two long years without in-person classes, ORCSGirls finally announced they were bringing back the AI Robot Camp, originally canceled due to Covid in 2020. I signed up, and the camp was held in the summer of 2022. I could not believe I was seeing all these girls in-person for the first time or again. A line of green robots awaited us. We worked in pair programming teams, and I even got to be partnered with a girl I had originally met online. It was an amazing experience, and I hope to be part of more in-person events in the future.

Lastly, I want to mention the great opportunities I have had as a volunteer with ORCSGirls for the past year and a half. I have been volunteering in classes that I have been a previous participant, and I think volunteering is a great way to build leadership and teaching skills! I love that ORCSGirls is an environment where younger girls and older girls can teach and work with each other. I see this dynamic even among the participants; the younger ones even help the older ones in some cases! My most enjoyable class to volunteer in is the Wonder Women Robotics Camp, run by Amelie Nagel. I was so thankful she let me help out, and it was great getting to work with girls that loved robots just as much as I did. 

Very soon I will be volunteering in person at an AI Vision camp at the Blount County Library. I can’t wait to help out. Just like I was so heavily impacted by the volunteers at my first class, I want to impact the girls at this camp. Who knows, someday one of them may use an Artificial Intelligence camera to help the world!

ORCSGirls has made such a big difference in my middle school life, and I am sure it will continue to influence me as I grow up. I’m positive Dr. Proffen would agree when I say: “you never grow out of ORCSGirls.”


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