Morgan State University’s coding camp for girls focused on teaching the campers the Python programming language, and each week they focused on a different aspect of the code. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member

Since 1970, the number of women working in STEM fields has increased from 8% to 27%, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, they still lag behind their male counterparts who make up 73% of the STEM workforce. The gap is even more staggering for women in engineering and computer science positions, which make up the majority of STEM occupations. One reason for this disparity is the lack of educational opportunities for women who are interested in STEM. 

Morgan State University (MSU) is addressing this gap with its summer coding camp by giving young girls the chance to break into the computer science field of STEM.

“We designed it to be an all-female coding camp because we are adamant about giving opportunities to underserved and underrepresented students,” said Katrina Robinson, professional development manager at MSU. “We all know we need more females in STEM, and we certainly need more females in computer sciences.” 

The camp was started in 2019 for young girls in fifth to eighth grades, but has since expanded to include high school students. This summer, the girls are learning the Python programming language over the course of 10 weeks. They meet on Saturdays over Zoom and focus on a different facet of the coding language each week, with topics ranging from user input to object-oriented programming.

During the last week, the girls will compete in teams to complete a final coding challenge that integrates all their lessons. The teams will be judged on accuracy, speed and the precision of their code, and awards will be given to the first, second and third place teams. 

Because of its sponsorship by Ciena, a networking systems, services, and software company headquartered in Hanover, Maryland, the camp is completely free for the girls. This was especially important to Abigail Dina, one of the program leads and a rising junior at MSU. When she was younger, she participated in a camp much like this one, and that experience influenced her to study computer science. However, the price prevented her from continuing in the following years. 

“I wanted to create that type of learning environment for other girls but make it more accessible,” said Dina. She runs the program with fellow computer science student Chelsea Amihere, and the pair are also president and vice president of the Women in Computer Science organization at MSU. 

The camp was given the option to hold an in-person program but ultimately decided to continue with the virtual format so that it could reach more people. Some of the participants live in California and New York, and Dina has received praise from parents who are thankful they do not need to drive their children to and from the camp. 

For Dina, her favorite part has been watching the girls gain more confidence in themselves. 

“I know a lot of students join the camp, and they express to us how they don’t know anything, and they’re kind of worried about that,” said Dina. “Then, right before the camp is over, I am able to watch them code the solutions without any help.”

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