Around middle school, many girls begin to lose interest in science and technology. However, thanks to a new program from the University of California, Santa Cruz supported by a $1.2 million grant from The National Science Foundation, girls may soon get their own summer camp aimed at keeping them engaged in STEM.

“A lot of it is due to social influences, because children at that age are very sensitive to what is acceptable to their peers,” Katherine Isbister, a professor at UC Santa Cruz professor who is leading the project, told the UC Santa Cruz News Center. “Computer science has become a highly gendered domain, even though it didn’t start out that way, and a lot of girls just self-select themselves out of it.”

According to Isbister, studies have indicated that when girls are given coding projects where they work together within a computational community –  surrounding them with others that have similar interests – they are a lot more likely to feel engaged. 

The program will combine fantasy role-playing with wearable technology made from hardware that can be purchased online. Camp participants will team up to design wearables and act out fictional performances through the game.

The program will employ games known as live-action role playing, or LARP, as a testbed. Game Academy, an organization that provides summer camps and classes with role-playing games, will manage camp sessions.

“The LARP community is interesting because of their expertise in crafting social experiences and their attitudes toward technology—they will only adopt a technology if it enhances the shared experience of the group,” Isbister told the UC Santa Cruz News Center. “We thought this was relevant to the problem of getting girls interested in computing.”

The UC Santa Cruz team behind the project hopes it will someday serve as a model that can be implemented widely by schools and organizations. 

Girls in STEM

Explore TryEngineering’s website to learn more about Girls in STEM. See how you can help encourage girls to pursue a career in STEM today.