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The Birth of ORCSGirls Jr.

 It's 1 PM on a Monday afternoon. 13 elementary school girls are waiting patiently for the camp to start. The excitement and anticipation can be felt through the Zoom screen as I start to talk... "Hi, my name's Katie! Welcome to the first ever ORCSGirls Jr. Virtual Reality Camp! Let's get started."

    Last summer (2022), I had the idea to run a coding camp for young girls through ORCSGirls. Regular ORCSGirls classes are only open to girls in 5th through 10th grade, and as a middle schooler, I wanted 2nd-4th grade girls to have a chance to explore computer science too. The goal of ORCSGirls is to inspire young girls to pursue careers in technology, and giving them that spark as early as 2nd grade is an awesome opportunity.

    A lot of planning went into making this camp possible. I started with an interest survey, which is how I chose virtual reality as the topic for the camp. Then I spent months gathering a team of counselors, making forms, and getting ready to show everyone what I’d been working on.

    I decided to use CoSpaces, an educational virtual reality platform, as the main tool for the camp. The girls would build on what they learned each day, with the goal of making a final project on the last two days. Everything started to come together in January, when I opened up applications. It felt unreal when the first girl signed up: there was someone out there who wanted to attend my camp and learn from me!

    When the first day of camp finally arrived, I was super nervous. I’d spent countless hours volunteering in regular ORCSGirls classes watching Dr. Proffen teach, but the idea of having to do it all myself seemed incredibly daunting. But nevertheless, one o’clock came anyway, and I had to open up the camp and begin. The little girls on my computer screen seemed so excited and anxious to get started, and once I started talking, it got easier to keep going. The girls were much faster with the technology than I expected, and by the end of the first day, the counselors had already begun to teach them some simple coding!

    The girls only got more amazing as the days progressed. On the second day, I taught them how to use a merge cube, which is a paper cube you can construct at home to view computer-generated images over top of real life. Once again, they were quickly coding and showing off their designing skills, way exceeding my expectations.

    For the last two days, I set the girls up to work on their final virtual reality project, and they blew all of us away with their creativity and imagination. Some girls made underwater habitats, others modeled a detailed city, and one even made a language-learning game with her merge cube! I was stunned by how thoughtful and inventive the girls were throughout the entire camp.

    At the end of each day, we took a group picture with the girls, and we saw them open up and get progressively happier and more involved with their counselors as the camp progressed. When it came time to do a parent showcase during the last day, every single girl unmuted and spoke about her project: what she had made, what her favorite part was, and how everything worked. It was beautiful to see all these girls, most of whom aren’t even 10 years old, creating coding projects that compare to the ones made by the middle and high school students in our regular classes.

    After seeing how much young girls can do with access to coding and technology instruction, I’ve been brainstorming what other opportunities I can give to girls like the amazing ones from the 2023 Jr. VR Camp. My outstanding counselors Ada, Alisha, Grace, Kristen, and Thuviksa made this camp possible, and I’ll always be grateful to Dr. Proffen for the opportunity he gave me to introduce these girls to STEM and watch them have so much fun doing it. Stay tuned for more information on upcoming Jr. classes! You all rock :)


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