If you were to ask Athena, 13, last week what she wants to be when she grows up, she would have told you she was thinking about becoming a doctor, a veterinarian, or — as she describes it — some other standard job that kids say they want to do.
But this week, Athena said she very well may become an animator.
“In school they always tell you like, ‘Oh, being a doctor is a really cool thing,’ but they never say, ‘Being an animator is a really cool thing.’ But now that I’ve had this experience, now I know I could be that.”
Athena is a Las Vegas Girl Scout and as such was able to participate in Alexa Cafe, which is a company called iD Tech’s first all girls weeklong summer program in Nevada focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
Alexa Cafe wraps up Friday afternoon, when campers like Athena will present their ideas for using their new skills for a social cause.
STEM-oriented summer camp company iD Tech has offered weeklong summer tech camps in Nevada for about five years at UNLV, called UNLV Tech Camp. This summer the company launched two other weeklong summer tech programs in Nevada: the Alexander Dawson school tech camp, as well as a pilot for an all girls tech camp called Alexa Cafe.
Forty Girl Scouts, ages 10 to 16, sat in groups of eight learning different skills: either 3-D modeling, mobile game design, cybersecurity and encryption, designing wearable technology, or photography and web design.
Summer, 11, learned about how to sew an electrical circuit into a piece of fabric.
“I decided to design a pillow,” she said, adding that her pillow will be able to be light up in the dark.
“I also decided I was going to put animals on the pillow, for like animal endangerment and stuff like that.”
Terrencia, 16, learned about how to make a website to showcase her photography.
Her week-long project was dedicated to boosting girls’ body image and self esteem.
“I’m going to try to capture candid photos of the girls. Just stuff from reality, just girls smiling and having fun, and just encouraging girls to be happy,” she said.
Terrencia said Alexa Cafe gave her the opportunity to explore web design, which she said she isn’t able to explore in school.
“I think it’s pretty fun. I think it’s a good thing for the girls. We can see that not only men can do these things, but we can do them as well,” she said.
Alexa Cafe is currently in 11 other states. Clark County School District’s Snehal Bhakta has been working to bring Alexa Cafe to Nevada for the “past couple of years.”
As a project facilitator in the career and technical education department at the district, Bhakta was one of the people behind the district’s #GirlsinTech and #GirlsinSTEM program.
“When I approached iD Tech a couple of years ago the challenge was trying to convince them that Las Vegas was a suitable market to host these camps,” Bhakta said.
So, Bhakta reached out to the Girls Scouts of Southern Nevada and pitched iD Tech on a Nevada pilot for Alexa Cafe with the Girl Scouts.
Girl Scouts, iD Tech and the school district made it happen, and all 40 slots were sold out within three days, Bhakta said.
Bhakta would like to see the program stay in Nevada and grow to be open to girls who aren’t in Girl Scouts as well.
Daniel Chapnick, one of iD Tech’s Southwest regional managers, said the company “will try to bring it back” to Nevada next summer, but they are still gauging demand for an all girls week-long STEM camp outside of Girl Scouts.
Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada asked that no campers’ last names be used in this story.
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Addressing the skills gap and the gender gap
Mariann Wright, camp director at Alexa Cafe, said the week-long camp “jumpstarts” getting girls included in STEM fields.
“Women are 50 percent of the population, but we’re still right at 14 percent of all computer science majors,” Wright said.
And getting girls interested in these fields early could have big payoff later on for Nevada, said Linda Bridges, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada.
Nevada is about 200,000 jobs short in the state’s emerging target industries when combined.