When the doors opened for Qcamp for Girls in STEM 2015, held August 10-21 inside the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab™ in San Diego, 30 pre-7th grade girls—the same group who attended last year’s inaugural Qcamp—ditched their parents and ran squealing with excitement to sign the colorful welcome board. They were thrilled to be back together and eager to start working on engineering projects related to the theme of “animals and the environment.”
Qcamp is the type of camp that your parents don't have to force you to come to because you want to come on your own.
I lead Qualcomm’s involvement in the Women Enhancing Technology (WeTech) program which aims to build a healthy pipeline of girls and women in STEM fields. Qcamp, a key WeTech initiative, is a three-year program to inspire middle school girls to pursue STEM education and, ultimately, careers. It is a collaboration between Qualcomm; the Institute of International Education; University of California, Berkeley; and the San Diego Unified School District.
Qcamp is great fun for both Qcampers and the Qualcomm employees who teach, guide and inspire them. It is two weeks of hands-on engineering, robo-crafts, guest speakers and field trips. This year, the girls visited Qualcomm’s LEED Gold-certified Pacific Center Campus to learn about energy efficiency and green buildings, attended a presentation by Dr. Thomas Bewley, head of UCSD’s Coordinated Robotics Lab, and visited Qualcomm’s Robotics Lab to learn more about wireless technologies and meet a Battlebots champion. They also visited the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Research Institute to learn about the human and environmental impacts on sea life and the California coastline.
As the days passed with their focus on robots, apps and wireless controls, I noticed a new sense of maturity in the girls that went beyond learning to sew (that was a challenge), making solar-powered butterflies, building crank-operated cardboard automatas, designing apps and pairing up to create their final projects—animated dioramas of different environments featuring robotic animals.
The girls were adept at problem-solving, enjoyed working independently and in collaboration with one another, and were quite articulate in expressing themselves—all practices that are important in a professional engineering environment. We served the girls lunch and snacks each day, and I noticed that just like Qualcomm engineers, Qcampers get excited about food!
Ever since I left Qcamp last summer, all I could think about was coming back.
At the end of each day and week, the girls reflected on what they learned. The Qcampers were given the opportunity to write down their thoughts, which we’re sharing with University of California, Berkeley as part of a longitudinal study of Qcamp. For example, one girl wrote, “I learned that, as a girl, I can do anything. That I shouldn’t get offended if someone says negative things about my gender, because I’ll be ready to prove them wrong. I am a girl. I am smart. I am strong. I can do anything.”
During the Qcamp Commencement and Wrap-up Celebration, Qualcomm announced that we’re giving each girl an Arduino kit which the Qcampers will be able to use to pay their newfound engineering knowledge forward. I imagine the girls will have a great time teaching their classmates and parents some of the really cool things they learned during Qcamp, including how to pronounce “automaton.”