‘Girls Go Digital!’ seeks positive disruptions; partial fee waivers available for SUU camp

Photo courtesy of Adrian Vanderhoof/Girls Go Digital!, date unspecified, St. George, Utah | St. George News

CEDAR CITY — When it comes to science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — classes, Rachel Ramsey wants to flip instruction on its head, especially when it comes to girls. Ramsey is the founder of “Girls Go Digital!” a four-day camp providing opportunities for girls ages 8-18 to learn more about computers, programming, technology and design.

Photo courtesy of Adrian Vanderhoof/Girls Go Digital!, St. George News
Photo courtesy of Adrian Vanderhoof/Girls Go Digital!, date unspecified, St. George, Utah | St. George News

Girls Go Digital! just wrapped up its camp last week at Dixie State University. The next camp will be at Southern Utah University from June 20-23, and Ramsey said there are still openings, including slots that come with partial fee waivers.

Ramsey, a full-time assistant professor of digital design at Dixie State University, started Girls Go Digital! as a result of her master’s coursework in applying design and communication design skills to a social issue.

“I wanted to address the issue of the gender gap of women in tech, and I found it be a real problem,” Ramsey said. “As I started to look into different types of technology-related projects, I realized that it wasn’t very accessible, and that was perhaps part of the reason girls weren’t entering this field.”

As a result of this realization, Ramsey took the different projects she was working on and tried to figure out how to make them interesting to girls.

Part of the problem, she said, has been the traditional methods of instruction when it comes to STEM classes. Ramsey used the example of teaching computer science, where students are first taught the skill and only learn what they can do with the skill after learning it. She said:

If you flip that on its head and you show students the power of what they’re learning and then build on that, more people will be interested. Girls by far are interested in participating in projects that they see can make the world a better place, where they can connect with other people.

This method of teaching, Ramsey said, has also been found to interest even more boys into this area, breaking the stereotypical perception of computer scientists.

“People with those skills help feed hungry people in third-world countries,” she said. “They help map the genome. They help send man into outer space. They help people connect on social networks. These skills cross all kinds of disciplines.”

Thus Girls Go Digital! was born at Dixie State in 2013 with 6 students. In 2014, that number grew to 52. The program added Southern Utah University as a location in 2015, and this year, there will be three additional camps after Southern Utah University. By the end of July, Ramsey said, the program will have served approximately 450 students.

Attendees to the camp are divided into different age groups where they study a wide variety of topics, ranging from photo editing and pixel art to electrical circuits and soldering.

(For a complete list of class descriptions and a sample schedule, click here)

In order to ensure classes are applicable to student learning during the school year, Ramsey said, the program works with Rebecca Esplin, a fourth-grade teacher in Enoch. In addition to teaching, Esplin also does training for other teachers in Utah. For Girls Go Digital! Esplin handles directing the curriculum and making sure lessons and skill sets are age-appropriate.

Esplin also teaches some of the actual classes, as does Ramsey. Additional instructors include a single mom who works in finance and economic development, other Southern Utah teachers and retired helicopter mechanic Joni Maker.

“She spent 22 years in the Navy,” Ramsey said. “Part of that was in an ocean rescue team in the middle of the Atlantic on an aircraft carrier.”

Maker teaches a class called “Break Stuff,” where students can learn about the parts of a computer by disassembling one.

All of the instructors essentially donate their time and energy, Ramsey said.

“These people are all compensated with high-fives and maybe a meal here or there.”

Ramsey said she hopes Girls Go Digital! will lead to a “positive disruption” in some of the girls’ lives. This idea came from the title of her thesis: “Disruption by Design.” Ramsey said the term “disruption” often has a negative connotation. She said:

An example might be, in second grade, you’re in art class and you drew a picture of a tree, and the kid next to you turns to you and says, ‘That doesn’t look anything like a tree.’ Then you start thinking, ‘Well maybe I’m not an artist. I can’t draw trees.’ … Who knows? You could’ve been an artist, but you listened to that negative influence.

Positive disruptions attempt to design a positive experience in the lives of kids — specifically girls — in relation to computer science and tech, Ramsey said.

She continued to say that it doesn’t necessarily mean that all the girls go on to become computer scientists. However, they will have the confidence they gained from the camp to attempt things they may have otherwise thought unattainable, from a college education to a nontraditional career choice.

“They can go on to a campus like Southern Utah University or Dixie State University and feel comfortable there and know that they belong at a place like that,” Ramsey said. “(Or) let’s say they decide they want to be a firefighter — or some other thing that’s not a traditional female role — they can say, ‘I was able to do all these things. I feel good enough about what my abilities are that I can approach anything in my life.’”

Girls Go Digital! was originally funded through a STEM Pipeline grant provided by the Utah Legislature, with some of the funds matched by Dixie State University. However, the funds for the grant ran out recently, leading to the camp having to become self-sustaining.

Ramsey said she is very grateful for the support offered by Dixie State University and Southern Utah University; however, she hopes other supporters in community will help the program by “putting their money where their mouth is.”

“If people are interested in being involved or supporting this type of initiative, there are lots of things they can do,” she said. “They can send a girl to camp. They can support other groups … They can donate money to the cause. They can let institutions like Dixie State and SUU know that this type of activity is appreciated.”

The funding cut has led to an increase in the cost of attending Girls Go Digital! from past years to $295 per student. However, Ramsey said there are still a few partial fee waivers available for girls to attend the Southern Utah University camp for just $150.

These will be honored on a first-come, first-served basis, Ramsey said. Parents should use the discount code “SUU150” when registering.

For anyone interested but unavailable to attend next week’s camp, Ramsey said there are still slots open for three additional camps in July in northern Utah.

Event details

  • What: Girls Go Digital! camp for girls ages 8-18
  • When: June 20-23
  • Where: Southern Utah University, Cedar City
  • Cost of the camp is $295. Partial fee waivers available using the code “SUU150”
  • For more information, visit the Girls Go Digital! website.

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