CSE helps students pursue coding careers through Girls Inc. Eureka! Program

Brittany Duncan helps a student code at the Girls Inc. Eureka! coding camp in July.
Brittany Duncan helps a student code at the Girls Inc. Eureka! coding camp in July.

Members of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering spent last month hosting summer coding camps for young women interested in learning more about coding and pursuing careers in computing.

The Eureka! Program, sponsored by Girls Inc., offers a STEM-based approach to engaging and empowering girls in grades 8-12 to see themselves as an important part of the workforce of the future. The five-year program brings girls, including many first-generation college applicants, onto local college and university campuses for intensive summer programs and additional opportunities that extend through the school year.

Associate professors Bonita Sharif and Brittany Duncan led the camps with assistance from their graduate and undergraduate students.

“It’s so fun to engage with young minds. It gives me hope that our future is bright,” Sharif said. “It’s so fun to see their faces light up when they get a program to run and do what it is supposed to.”

Camp activities included introductions to Java, Integrated Development Environment, and Eclipse, as well as “unplugged” activities designed to help students understand how computers work and how to detect coding errors. Students also had a chance to learn robotics through activities and lessons that involved LEGO Robotics kits and block coding concepts.

“I enjoyed interacting with the students and seeing how they learn computing concepts,” Sharif said. “They learned that computing is in every aspect of our lives. They also learned that it is important to break bigger problems down into simpler ones.”

The camps were split into two sessions for advanced and beginner-level students. For sophomore student Oliver, who was already interested in coding, the camp provided an opportunity to build on self-taught skills and advance to the next skill level.

“I used to go to coding classes, and in my own free time I would sometimes code, but the only website I knew was not really a good one for advanced coding,” Oliver said. “This camp makes me more likely to go into it.”

Sophomore student Reagan initially decided to attend the camp after learning it would help her earn college credits.

“I always liked STEM even when I was in elementary school, so I thought it would be a cool experience,” she said.

Reagan also said the camp has given her a new perspective on computing. After initially thinking coding “wasn’t that much fun,” she is now more interested in pursuing it professionally.

“I think it takes a lot more work than I initially thought,” she said. “But also, I might even want a career in computer software someday.”

Oliver said the Eureka! program will help others explore opportunities they previously didn’t even know existed.

“I think this program is a really great way to learn more about jobs that aren't really well known,” Oliver said. “No one really knows about the people who actually code the machines, and there are a lot more jobs if they go into that field of study.”

Reagan agreed that the camp will open many more doors for young women, fulfilling the Eureka! mission of helping them become empowered members of the workforce.

“I think it's really important that girls get experiences like this so we can have more female-led careers in the future.”