Coding Bootcamp for Girls at SDSU

By: Jodelle Greiner, The Brookings Register

There’s a push to get more girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math, and that’s exactly what Code Bootcamp at South Dakota State University is doing by offering all-girls camps on how to write video games.

“It’s good that we offer these programs to have them be able to see that they can do it,” said Will Bushee, co-founder of Code Bootcamp.

Code Bootcamp was offered as two one-week courses at SDSU. There were 18 in the group last week, and Bushee said 15 were signed up for this week.

They start with a blank screen and build several games. At the end of the week, the girls get to show what they’ve learned to parents, siblings and grandparents.

“What we really want to do is get the parents engaged, as well, (have them say) ‘Hey, that was really cool, the games that the kids built.’ A lot of times, (the kids) want to show what they created,” Bushee said.

Recruiting girls

The camps in Brookings are two of seven Code Bootcamps being run this summer; three are in Sioux Falls and two in Pierre. It is the first time it’s been done in Brookings, Bushee said.

There’s no difference in the work – the curriculum is exactly the same as the co-ed camps, but they struggle with getting girls into those camps.

“If we just open registration (to all), we’ll get two or three girls out of a class of 15. Sometimes we don’t even get any. So this is great,” Bushee said of the girls-only camp.

The camp is made possible through funding by Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), which receives funding from the National Science Foundation, as well as the state of South Dakota, according to Xijin Ge, associate professor at SDSU in the department of mathematics and statistics.

“The grant lets us keep the registration fee down to $50 per girl, so I think that grant helps,” Bushee said.

It’s important, he added, that the girls have a chance to see that they can do well in activities traditionally thought of as boys’ territory.

“The girls that do come do phenomenal. I’m always blown away with the girls. The girls are just so engaged. It’s just so much different than the boy camps,” Bushee said.

It’s important to reach the girls when they’re in fifth to eighth grades.

“Once they get into that middle school age, they start to get a little bit of resistance, ‘Oh no, that’s a boys thing,’” Bushee said.

“I don’t know that the girls are being discouraged from it at all. I think it’s important that everybody, boys and girls, that we expose them to technology, programming, electronics, engineering, data, science, everything. At that young of an age, they don’t know what they’re gonna like,” he added.

From adults to kids

Their business was launched three years ago as a 12-week web development program for adults, Bushee said.

“We had a lot of parents wanting to know if we did anything for kids. At the time, we didn’t. So I thought we’ll do a gaming bootcamp. We’ll teach kids how to build video games. There seems to be a big interest in that,” Bushee said.

Bushee said the girls build five to six games in a five-day period. The culmination of the week is “a really big, epic game that’s got multiple levels, and a boss level, and multiple enemies. And all kinds of just different things to do, so it takes a little bit longer to do,” he said.

The girls are learning “valuable tech skills,” Bushee said.

For each action in the game, they have to anticipate possible outcomes and determine what options the player has in each event, then write scenes. They’re learning about physics, gravity and how objects bounce off of other objects, and they have to understand the process of thinking each step out, Bushee said.

“One of the girls (the day before) wanted to make an underwater level,” said Bill Alsaker, an instructor in the math department who’s helping with the camp. “So we had a discussion about how do you simulate an underwater level. So we changed the density of the character so they jump really slow because they’re under the water.”

Why join?

The underwater level was one of the cool things about the camp, according to Omolemo “Mimie” Mosase, 10, of Brookings, who was part of the camp last week.

“One of the reasons (I took the class) was because my mom was getting me robots for my birthday and she wanted me to learn how to code so that I could actually program them. And she didn’t have to do all the work,” Mosase said.

She had a previous interest.

“There was coding in school, and we never got to do enough of it,” she added.

Morgan Kistner’s mom signed her up for the class.

“As we got into the days, it got a lot more fun,” said the 11-year-old from Bushnell.

“I thought it was fun to learn how to create games,” said Maria Quale, 11, from Volga.

Mosase and Quale didn’t care that the class was all girls, but that aspect appealed to Kistner.

“I was kind of worried if there was boys that they’d pick on me, so I’m kind of glad it’s all girls,” Kistner said.

All three girls liked learning.

“I’ve learned quite a lot of coding, honestly, which is quite nice,” Kistner said.

“I have learned how to make an underwater level – negative gravity level,” Mosase said. “I did a lot of stuff that I never knew how to do. My favorite game so far is either the Bunny Hop or the platform game.”

“We’ve learned how to make the game and add like heroes, make them jump, walk, all that kind of stuff,” Quale said.

Future STEM careers?

While Kistner thinks she’ll be a musician when she grows up, Quale and Mosase thought they might like to keep a hand in coding.

Quale liked creating the games and getting to meet the other girls, and she thinks she might like to create new games in the future.

Mosase had more concrete plans.

“I’m still deciding what I want to do,” Mosase said, “but then I also want to get a career that I can live by. I thought coding could be a good thing, you could go to college for that … then you actually have a good house and stuff.”

That’s the idea behind the camps, to inspire girls to see themselves in careers like that, said Bushee and Alsaker.

Alsaker works with engineering students and said some classes have three females out of 20 males, so there’s lots of work to do to encourage the girls to look ahead.

“I do think it’s really nice for young impressionable girls to have a group of a bunch of girls, so they don’t feel like they are in the minority,” Alsaker said.

“We’re passionate about trying to get more girls just to try things like this,” Bushee said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at jgreiner@brookingsregister.com.

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