Beyond Coding

Published: Oct 2, 2017
(3 young girls practicing their coding skills)

The sun is pouring through the large windows in the Performing Arts & Humanities third floor dance studio. About 20 girls, 7th – 9th graders, are sprawled out on mats following the movements of the yoga instructor at the front of the room. They are learning about flexibility, how to “think outside the box, kind of like there’s no set answer to the question.”

These girls are not at UMBC exclusively to learn yoga, however, but rather to challenge their computing skills. How Girls Code: Mind, Body, and Coding summer camp at UMBC is an extension of the after-school program in Howard County Public Schools co-founded by Lisa Schlossnagle and Katie Egan ’94, history. In its third year, the camp operates with the goal of raising the percentage of women involved in computing work.

“Everything we do these days, everybody uses a computer somehow,” observes Claudia Pearce ’89 M.S., ’94 Ph.D., computer science, following her presentation as one of the guest speakers during the camp. “And understanding how computers work, I think, will help everybody,” said Pearce, now the senior cloud strategist and computer science authority for NSA.

The girls practice a variety of computing skills using a range of softwares and tools. In a WeDo/ EV3 Robots class, for example, the girls were challenged to program their robots to dance to music by using software to code the instructions for each robot’s movements. “We’re making a ballerina,” explains one of the girls.

How does the yoga instruction fit into this program? Yoga “brings all the benefits of stress management, and we know that computing is a difficult field,” says Schlossnagle. The girls learn to slow down and open their minds to new possibilities; they learn to be flexible, both in their physical movements and their computing abilities.

Since its beginning, the camp has grown from about 40 to 140 girls. This growth is promising, but as Tynker instructor Lorene Cannella says, the key is getting the girls “to stay in it.” “We’re just very hopeful that we can continue to raise this awareness and engage more girls and their families into seeking out these types of opportunities,” adds Schlossnagle.

— Allison Cruz ’18

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