Here is an interview with Fang Yi, an educational technologist working at UVa library Robertson Media Center. She is also the organizer of Girls Maker Camp. Read on to learn more about Fang’s motivation for organizing Girls Maker Camp.
The activities of Girls Maker Camp were so engaging and accessible! How did you and interns of UVa Women’s Maker Program prepare for the Girls Maker Camp?
Fang Yi: We have organized some similar programs in the past, including one for the Girl Scouts. We did a focus group in which we interviewed several middle schoolers. We asked them questions about their experiences with AR, VR, 3D printing technology, their impressions of STEM, and what kind of things they would love to try.
Residents of the UVa Women’s Maker Program put in lots of effort in preparing for the Girls Maker Camp—especially Izzy (The Women’s Maker Program Intern as well as the Pilot program resident in Spring 2020), who came up with fabulous ways of vibe checking and ice-breaking. And she was also so good at making transitions from previous activity to the next one.
When training our Women’s Maker Program residents, I emphasized the “Understanding by Design” curriculum design framework and our pilot program residents used this framework to design the Girls Maker Camp. “Understanding by design” reverses the traditional “forward design” manner and instead encourages instructors to consider the learning/teaching goals first. This means that when we are organizing the Girls Maker Camp, we first think of what goals we want to achieve and what knowledge or skills we want them to have, and then we make a project plan from there.
I guess another thing is that we tried to make GMC activities “personally meaningful.” It means that the activities we designed need to be personally relevant to the youth who were participating in the Girls Maker Camp, and that we need to make them feel the things they were doing were meaningful to their goals and personal growth.
What is special about this Girls Maker Camp and what motivated you to come up with this idea?
Fang Yi: There are lots of Maker Programs or Maker Camps, but this Girls Maker Camp specifically emphasized social roles and gender equity in STEM. My colleague Jennifer first came up with this idea of organizing a camp for middle school girls, because she had read that Middle School is the turning point where lots of girls start losing interest and confidence in STEM. We would love to encourage more girls to be more excited about STEM.
The gender inequality has an impact on girls’ majors and career choices in and after college as well. Girls majoring in STEM areas take up only one thirds of all students majoring in STEM. We can also see this in our daily lives. 3D printers and VR at RMC have been largely male-dominated, and I hope there are ways to encourage women to learn about these resources and to explore these tools in ways that are fun to them. So I also started thinking of ways to address the gender gap in STEM that targeted college students.
That was how the Women’s Maker Pilot Program (a one-semester long program) first came into being. In that program, 6 interns will identify a community problem that they really care about and try to find ways to solve it; for instance, in the past, some interns worked on Sustainability and Accessibility. Now, with more funding from Jefferson Trust and Parents fund, we were able to officially launch the program from 2021- 2023 and expand the program to a year-long program.
What is the relationship between the Girls Maker Camp and Women Maker Program?
Fang Yi: The Girls Maker Camp was organized by students in the Women Maker Program. We’ve been inviting women working in STEM as guest speakers before to speak to interns of the Women Maker Program and other students, because we hope that these guest speakers can act as role models for them. As for the Girls Maker Camp, I really wish that our interns—these college students— could act as role models or mentors for middle school girls who participated in our Camp.
What are some reasons for this gender gap in STEM education and beyond?
Fang Yi: There is a lot of research on that. Research suggests that experience gap, geeky culture, lack of belonging, stereotypes and bias, as well as curriculum issues are the major factors resulting in gender gap.
Could you say more about the curriculum?
Fang Yi: So they identify that, foundational courses in engineering and related majors are usually set up in ways that tend to exclude women or non-binary students. These courses are oftentimes about theories and concepts but the motivation for lots of women or non-binary students to go into engineering, or medicine per se, is to help others or solve societal problems. So when they learn those tedious concepts without the possibility to make a connection with how they can be applied to their everyday lives and improve others’ lives, it is easier for them to lose interest or to drop the engineering major or discontinue their STEM career, and to think of STEM as something that is “not for them.”
Any final thoughts about the Girls Maker Camp?
Fang Yi: I’m glad that we’ve got very positive feedback in the post-Camp questionnaires. Some wrote that they wanted to try more things and hope this Camp can last longer, perhaps a whole day instead of half of the day. It is also touching that we received an email from a parent saying how happy their children are to be able to attend this Camp.
I also very much appreciate the efforts that the interns of Women Maker Program’s have put into organizing the camp. I thank them for organizing such an amazing maker program. And I also appreciate C4K and Tech-Girls for bringing community members and local youth to the camp. It is actually very difficult for me to outreach to the community, because there are so many barriers—we were not sure whom to contact, and there were also a bunch of barriers regarding transportation and time conflicts. And C4K and Tech-Girls are great at community outreach and they have long-term partnerships with local youth and community members. So this partnership is perfect because we (the Women’s Maker Program) can provide equipment and tutorials/training, while C4K can help connect with youth in the local community.