When it comes to computer science, Ava Wandersleben is driven, curious and motivated. So much so that she wants to ensure other young girls can pursue the field too.
The rising Watkins Memorial High School senior is hosting a coding camp, called Putting the Sisterhood in STEM, for girls grades 5-9 to teach them the basics of the web programming languages known as HTML and CSS.
Ava said it’s important for young girls to learn these basic skills as technology becomes more ingrained in daily life.
“Especially for girls, they definitely need a place for themselves to explore STEM, knowing that it’s OK for girls to do these things and to have female role models,” she said.
The camp, which Ava is hosting as part of a Girl Scout project, will take place on four consecutive Saturdays from July 23-Aug. 13. Participants must attend three out of the four classes, which will be taught virtually from 7:30-11:30 a.m. July 21 is the last day to register.
Girls often lose interest in science, technology, engineering and math by middle school, according to a 2017 study by Microsoft.
Creating a course specifically for middle school girls was important to Ava, so girls can fortify their interests in STEM at a young age.
Ava said through her participation in Watkins Memorial’s Girls Who Code Club and Robotics Team, they’ve discussed ways to prevent girls from losing interest in STEM with their advisor, Teresa Gordon.
And through her project, Ava is taking steps to ensure girls realize STEM is open to them, Gordon said.
“The motivation is to connect with girls and encourage them to stay with STEM throughout high school and then into careers,” she said of the camp. “For me, that is just so exciting and empowering to watch a young woman take that lead and do something.”
Gordon, who teaches computer science at Watkins Memorial, said the Girls Who Code Club has become at “sisterhood of empowerment.”
“We support each other and it doesn’t have to be about computer science, it’s just really women supporting women, and that you can do whatever it is that you want to do,” she said.
And through the Robotics Team, Gordon said she has pushed girls, including Ava, to be more hands-on just like the boys.
The coding camp is another way for Ava to be hands-on. She said she created the curriculum herself based on concepts she’s learned in Gordon’s class as well as a college-level HTML class she’s taken. She’ll also be teaching it alongside her younger sister, Kaitlyn.
Ava’s love of computer science won’t end with her Girl Scout project, and she plans on majoring in the subject once she gets to college.
“I think the thing I enjoy about computer science so much is that it requires you to think and it’s almost like solving a puzzle with every problem that you’re given,” she said. “If you just reason your way through it, then you get to the answer and it’s really fun when you can get to the answer because you know that you like had to think about it really hard to get there.”
The camp is part of Ava’s Gold Award Project. The Gold Award is the most prestigious award in Girl Scouting and requires girls to create a sustainable solution to a real-world problem, according to Girl Scouts of the USA.
Ava’s goal is that the camp participants will spread the message that STEM and computer science is a place girls can succeed.
“What I’m hoping is that these girls will carry these skills on with them for a while and then also that they will be able to show their passion for STEM to other girls that maybe weren’t able to come or didn’t know about this,” she said.
Gordon said beyond the camp, Ava will keep making a difference for girls because she is driven not only for herself but others as well.
“She is truly a good person that will help anybody, you know, with whatever knowledge she has, she’ll be there for for anybody,” she said. “I expect great things of her in the future just because of the kind of person that she is.”
If You Go
What: Putting the Sisterhood in STEM coding camp
When: 7:30-11:30 a.m. on July 23, July 30, Aug. 6 and Aug. 13
Register at https://bit.ly/3aIecwd.