It was no boys allowed at the GenCyber Camp Aug. 1-2 and 5-7 at Wilson Middle School.

The camp for girls entering grades 5-9, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency, provided an opportunity for girls to learn about technology without being outnumbered by boys, said Deb Hernandez, instructional technology coach.

“We wanted to inspire them to consider a career in cybersecurity,” she said.

The 30 participants engaged in hands-on activities and listened to speakers from the FBI, Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s Office and private industry, Hernandez said. They heard from women who work in tech fields — some of them in leadership roles.

“We have teachers from as far east as Avoca and as far west as Vernal, Utah,” said Therese Laux, lead educator. “We wanted to get the best, because our students deserve the best.

“We have to start earlier to get them interested,” she said. “We can’t wait until high school. We have to show them they can do this. When it’s just girls, they have more freedom to do stuff. They feel supported.”

Abbie Burke and Emy Bagshaw, both entering seventh grade, said they were glad there were no boys there.

“It just makes the process a lot easier,” Abbie said. “It’s fun to hang out with friends and code.”

Activities focused on coding and robotics, Laux said. The girls built robotic cars from a kit and programmed them with basic commands.

“These girls — or at least some of them — are at a level where this may be their first coding experience,” she said.

The robots were easy to assemble, Laux said.

“You don’t need any tools,” she said. “It just kind of snaps together. Girls don’t always get the opportunity to build something. If we can get them interested in how things work and then interested in tech, we’ve been successful.”

The robots had two wheels on one end and a center resting point on the other. The wheels could turn in either direction or in opposite directions. The students programmed the robots with their Chromebook laptops, which could communicate with the motors, Laux said.

The girls demonstrated what they could do with their robots after a luncheon with parents held on the final day of the camp.

Kaia Schleifman, who’s going into sixth grade, was programming her robot to go forward, backward and sideways, then spin. She said it was simpler than coding she had done in her TAG class, and she wanted to keep learning about it.

Abbie said she was interested in maybe going into a tech field, and the camp had strengthened that interest.

Emy said girls should be in tech fields, just like boys. She said she wants to go into art but that some computer functions tie in with art.

“I feel like this is fun enough to get anyone interested — even girls,” Kaia said.

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