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UT Dallas CS Department Hosts two Residential Camps for Tech-Minded Girls

The UT Dallas Computer Science Department is doing their part to inspire high school girls to get interested in the world of computer science by holding residential camps on the UT Dallas campus. The UT Dallas CS Department ran two residential camps for young women during the month of June; the Connect-Inspire-Guide Camp for Incoming Female Freshmen and The Techy Girls Residential Camp. Both camps offered computer science activities as well as yoga sessions, movie nights, scavenger hunts, and lunches with women in the computer science industry.

Dr. Janell Straach and Mary Partain, who are the principal investigators for both camps, conceived the idea for both of the camps. Three UT Dallas Computer Science majors, Corrin Thompson, Reina Tomlinson, Shiva Sharma, and one Electrical Engineering student, Manushi Sheth, were the camp instructors for both summer camps, providing strong female leadership to each camper. The UT Dallas CS students taught the summer camp programs for both weeks.

Connect-Inspire-Guide Camp for Incoming Female Freshmen students, sponsored by The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) and Microsoft Research, gave fifteen incoming UT Dallas Computer Science or Software Engineering freshmen girls the opportunity to spend a week to interact with other incoming CS/SE female students who share similar interests, and to develop a sense of community and support before they start their first year in college in the fall of 2015. The Connect-Inspire-Guide incoming female freshmen campers were able to register for classes early, thereby eliminating some of the anxieties that come with the first week of classes.

The Techy Girls Residential Camp brought together twenty North Texas high school senior and junior girls with zero to no computer science experience for one week to get the girls excited and curious about possibilities in computer science and show them that women have the potential to be successful computer scientists in the 21st century. The Techy Girls camp attendees stayed in one of the UT Dallas residential halls and allowed the girls to see themselves as future successful computer science college students.

UT Dallas Computer Science faculty members including, Drs. Gopal Gupta, UT Dallas CS Department head, Ovidiu Daescu, Linda Morales, Charles Shield, Pushpa Kumar, Ebru Çankaya, and Don Vogel welcomed the campers to the UT Dallas campus and spoke to the girls about the UT Dallas Computer Science department. Junia Valente, a UT Dallas PhD candidate in Software Engineering, spoke to the girls about her experiences as a woman pursuing a PhD in CS/SE.

During the camps, the young women participated in many hands-on activities. They made their own t-short designs using JavaScript to create their own image, which was printed their t-shirt. They programmed S2 robots to go through a maze of cardboard boxes, and got to use the interactive programming language called Alice to create their own games. During the introduction-to-programming session they learned about algorithms and even wrote their own code.

During both of the camps, the young women were able to network with successful female career professionals from IBM, USAA, Fujitsu, and the women from the UT Dallas Women Who Compute (WWC) club. Each visiting career professional joined the campers for different events including salsa dancing, yoga, scavenger hunts, and lunch.

Both camps visited the Galerstein Women’s Center on the UT Dallas campus where they discussed feminism issues and how to empower women in the computer science field. At the end of their visit to the women’s center, the young women were asked one simple question, “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” Every girl raised her hand.

Janell Straach is the driving force behind the techy inspired girls’ camps. “This is our third year for the Techy Girls camp and each year it just gets better.  I become so inspired during the camp when I see how our UT Dallas students are teaching their near-peers about programming.  The amazing part for me has been to see how it impacts not only the high school girls but also our UT Dallas camp staff students.  Everyone leaves the week more knowledgeable and confident.”

This summer was the first time the Connect-Inspire-Guide Camp was arranged. “Ever since the first Techy Girls camp it’s been my dream to create this camp” says Dr. Straach.  “My inspiration came from a group of UT Dallas female students who told me about their freshmen year.  They told me they didn’t know other females in CS so the first goal of this camp is to CONNECT.  They told me they weren’t sure women belonged in CS, so the second goal of the camp is to INSPIRE.  Finally, they told me they weren’t sure about how to be successful in this male dominated field, so the third goal is to GUIDE them.   I’m very proud of everyone associated with this camp and appreciate the support from the K12 outreach program, NCWIT, the camp staff, our UT Dallas staff, and the CS department for sponsoring these camps. “


Both camps were able to visit the Galerstein Women’s Center to discuss women in the computer industry, feminism, and to have a open discussion.
Incoming Freshmen at take their robots that they programmed in S2 through a cardboard maze.
Incoming Freshmen at take their robots that they programmed in S2 through a cardboard maze.
At the end of the Techy Girls camp the girls all did henna on each other.
Incoming female Freshmen working hard while having fun.
Learning to program a robot.



About the UT Dallas Computer Science Department

The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States, as of Fall 2015, with over 1,600 bachelor’s-degree students, more than 1,100 master’s students, 160 PhD students, and 80 faculty members.  With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the Jonsson School is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for engineers and computer scientists. Located in the high-tech region of North Texas, the Jonsson School averages more than 500 student placements a year at Dallas-area high-tech companies and is in perfect position to achieve its goals.


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