Provo—The lobby is loud. There are 30-odd girls, ages 8-14, mostly seated at the building’s entrance, waiting for the day camp to begin. Almost without exception, they are moving, talking, fidgeting, dancing, bragging, laughing, yelling. They’re all wearing the same bright blue shirts, and if it weren’t for the ASCII rabbit logo and the sign proclaiming this to be the entrance of InsideSales.com’s yearly Girls Code camp, it could easily pass for some other, perhaps more commonly expected, girls’ day camp.
It’s not the fact that they’re all in the same shirts, or that there’s so many girls all crowded into the lobby waiting for the day to begin—it’s the fact that they’re all comfortable, they all feel like they belong. And, considering they’re at a camp for the subject they’re statistically unlikely to work in, at an age they’re least likely to like it? That’s crucial. Not just for the girls, but for the future of STEM in Utah.
A survey commissioned by Microsoft found that girls retain their interest in STEM subjects until the age of 11—but that by the age of 15, they’ve been completely pushed out of the fields. Societal expectations, stereotypes, peer pressure, as well as lack of mentors and successful examples of women in STEM careers all come together to make many young girls completely lose interest in the subjects, never to return.
Dave Elkington, CEO of InsideSales.com, noticed this when his daughter was eight years old. He visited his young son’s school science fair and noticed that many of the project winners were girls.
“And what’s shocking to me is that by the time [these girls] get into high school, it stops being cool. It frustrated me. I’ve got this daughter, who was eight or nine, and it frustrates me to think that society or peer pressure would limit her ability to be successful,” said Elkington. “So my wife and I talked about sponsoring a girls code camp. We did this camp three years ago and they love it. And they’re really good at it.”
The point, said Elkington, was to find a way to bolster girls and show them that there is a space for them in STEM during that crucial time period where the girls might otherwise be alienated. He said he originally thought of doing the camp for high school girls, but found that by high school, the damage has already been done.
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