Camper Mariah Cunningham, 10, programs her robot, seen in the foreground, during a computing camp held at St. Paulâ€™s Episcopal Church in Columbus on Wednesday. Mariah attends Sale Elementary and is the daughter of Melissa and David Cunningham. Photo by: Mary Alice Truitt/Dispatch Staff
Rising Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science senior Mary Lee says technology and computers are pivotal subjects for students to learn and master in order to succeed in the future.
Her philosophy and personal experience with computer science inspired Lee to develop and direct a summer computing camp in Columbus for rising third, fourth and fifth grade girls.
“In anything you do, you need to learn how to deal with technology and computers,” she said. “I personally love math. And to me, programming is problem solving.”
Lee welcomed 14 campers Monday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for the first Bulldog Bytes Aspire IT Day Camp for Girls. The camp teaches programming using “Snap!” programming language and Finch educational robots. It also encourages internet safety through exercises in creating strong passwords and teaching basic aspects of digital forensics.
Mariah Cunningham, 10, is a rising fifth grader at Sale Elementary. Cunningham said her favorite part of the camp is controlling the Finch robots. She demonstrated her programming skills by using the computer in front of her to make the robot move forward and backward.
Cunningham said in the future she might like “to make people robots and invent other robots.”
The campers will be able to take their robots home at the end of the camp week, and they have learned about programs they can download to their home computers, allowing them to continue programming and to show their family and friends what they learned.
Five counselors and staff members assist Lee in making the Bulldog Bytes Day Camp for Girls a reality.
Heather Bostick, 18, will attend Mississippi State University in the fall and major in computer science. An alumna of New Hope High School, Bostick stresses the importance of girls’ interaction with a science-, technology-, engineering- and math-based education, or STEM.
“In computer science, it’s very much male-dominated. So in a camp like this, it’s really cool that [the campers] see robots are for girls, too,” Bostick said. “It’s empowering.”
Bostick will also attend a residential Bulldog Bytes computing camp at MSU in July.
Lee thought to conduct the four-day camp for young girls after she was awarded a grant from the National Center for Women in Information Technology’s Aspire IT Program. She applied for the grant upon winning the Mississippi Aspirations in Computing award through NCWIT.
Lee’s camp garners support from MSU’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, which provides laptop computers for campers to practice programming their Finch robots.
Lee based the camp on existing residential computing camps at MSU, which target middle and high school students. She has served as a counselor at MSU computing camps for two years and participated in two other computer camps prior to counseling.
Who sparked her interest in computer science?
“My mom,” she said.
Lee’s mother, Sarah Lee, is a computer science professor at MSU and facilitates Bulldog Bytes at MSU. Sarah Lee serves as the fiscal agent for the Bulldog Bytes Day Camp for Girls and manages paperwork and finances. She also advises the Day Camp for Girls team on daily activities.
Sarah Lee said the camp has the potential to make a significant impact because “it’s kids from Columbus doing something for kids from Columbus.”
Camper Makenzie Cunningham, 10, and Heather Bostick, a recent graduate of New Hope High School, work on programming a robot to play a song at a computing camp held at St. Paulâ€™s Episcopal Church in Columbus on Wednesday morning. Makenzie attends Sale Elementary and is the daughter of Melissa and David Cunningham.
Photo by: Mary Alice Truitt/Dispatch Staff
Campers Mariah and Makayla Cunningham, 10, work on customizing their robots at a computing camp held at St. Paulâ€™s Episcopal Church in Columbus on Wednesday morning. Mariah and Makayla attend Sale Elementary and are the daughters of Melissa and David Cunningham.
Photo by: Mary Alice Truitt/Dispatch Staff