By Tina Lu
Being a girl in math and computer science can be hard, especially considering the extremely large gender gap in STEM. On my school math team, there were twice as many boys as girls. In the math-based theoretical computer science camp I attended last summer, there were ten times as many boys as girls. During my computer science research internship this summer, I was the only girl working with thirteen boys.
This past summer, I felt especially intense alienation as the only girl in my research group. My input seemed worthless; the boys would hear what I had to say but disregard it. I would code a program, but they wouldn’t use it. Though I considered quitting, I did not want to allow a stereotype to steer me away from a field I genuinely liked. Eventually, I found my niche in front-end design and proved to myself and my peers that I, a girl, could be a valuable contributor in a computer science research group dominated by men.
Wanting to bridge the gender gap in mathematics and math-based sciences, I decided to start Equalize It!, a free and fun math-based summer program for rising fifth grade girls. Equalize It! uses fun, feminine, and real-world applicable games and activities to teach girls math, encouraging them to associate math with having fun and being a girl. If you’re interested in learning more about Equalize It! and/or starting an Equalize It! program yourself, please keep reading and email me at email@example.com. I can provide you with the curriculum I used, including my students’ feedback on every activity.
So now that you know the general gist of my program and its overarching purpose, here are the steps I took to make my idea into a reality:
1. First, thoroughly flesh out the purpose of your program, your target audience, and what activities you’ll be doing during your camp
After I came up with the idea of Equalize It!, I first researched more about the gender gap in STEM, since that was the issue I wanted to solve. I tried to figure out the main causes of the gender gap, which include implicit math-is-male stereotypes, female alienation in male-dominated STEM environments, and low female interest and confidence in STEM. After even more research, I decided to specifically target implicit biases that females are not “fit” for math, which have been shown to decrease female interest and confidence in mathematics, and in turn decrease their liking towards all STEM fields in general. Since I knew I wanted to overturn these implicit biases, I then researched when these implicit biases started developing, and when the gender gap in mathematics first started becoming visible. Because I wanted the girls to be at a manageable yet still impressionable age, I decided to target rising fifth grade girls. Finally, I brainstormed ways I can solve this problem during my program, ultimately deciding to use fun, feminine, and real-world applicable games and activities.
Pro tip 1: Come up with a name for your program after you figure out what exactly your program is all about. A name may not seem super important or even necessary, but having a really creative and clever name that relates to your purpose will make you more memorable to prospective program attendees!
2. Next, figure out when you’re going to host your camp
Make sure you have a range of dates and an idea of how long you want your program to be. For your reference, Equalize It! was six days long, Monday to Saturday, and held during mid-August. This will be easier if you make a list of all of the activities you plan to do and how long those activities will take. Then, create a schedule to figure out how many days you will need and how many hours you will need per day. I held Equalize It! from 1:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day.
Pro tip 2: Make sure to add in a snack time or break every single day! This break should be 15 to 20 minutes long. It can also be used as cushion time, if necessary.
Pro tip 3: Make sure to line up the start time and end time of your program with hours parents are typically off work, especially if you’re working with little kids. I decided to start my program at 1:00 p.m., since that is when most parents’ lunch breaks end, and end my program at 5:30 p.m., since that is when most parents get off work.
3. Now that you have your program all planned out, find a place to host your camp!
For me, this step was definitely the hardest. Before I found a place to host my program, which ended up being a public recreation center in the town next to mine, I had to call over twenty different libraries and public recreation centers around my area. Their top three reasons for rejecting me were:
- I am too young to self-host a program (I’m 17, by the way, still a minor)
- I need to be affiliated with a 501c3 non-profit organization, which I’m not
- They’re all booked up and don’t have space for my camp
You will definitely be much more successful if you’re older than I am and start earlier than I did. I first started calling locations around the end of June and beginning of July, which is WAY later than you should. Preferably, start calling locations around the end of March, so you will have a location set by the end of April and can start getting participants when they’re still in school!
Pro tip 4: Be sure you have steps 1 and 2 completed before you start step 3! Trust me, it really helps in the long run! Facilities are going to ask you about all of these kinds of details, and you want to make sure you have these answers ready.
Pro tip 5: Figure out how much you want to charge each participant before this step. If you’re looking to make a profit, most facilities will try to charge you money, but if you’re planning on making your program free, most facilities will give you space for free!
Pro tip 6: If you’re planning on creating a program that is related to female empowerment, try contacting female empowerment organizations near you! During the school year, I’m actually planning on hosting Equalize It! after-school programs in conjunction with two different female empowerment organizations!
4. Finally, advertise your camp and get participants!
Before you start advertising, make sure you have a target number and a maximum number of participants in mind. Consider the capacity of your space and the cost for each participant. Also, if you are charging money for you camp, be realistic with your target figure. For my camp, I set a target of ten girls and a maximum of twenty girls. In the end, I had eighteen girls.
In addition, figure out registration logistics, like how participants can register for your camp. I had the parents of interested participants email me, so I could send them the necessary forms to fill out. Lastly, set a deadline for registration. This is super important, so participants remember to register as soon as possible! Remember, you can always extend the deadline.
Now, onto methods for advertising! To advertise Equalize It!, I first contacted the local Board of Education and asked them to send out my flyer and schedule of events to all public elementary schools in the town. I also tried emailing the principals of elementary schools directly, but they all told me I needed permission from the Board of Education first. Then, I went to all of the local public libraries around me and posted flyers for Equalize It! Finally, I reached out to any rising fifth grade girls I personally knew and asked them if they were interested in joining!
Since I started advertising my program after school ended, I needed to rely on email communication. However, if you find yourself in the advertising phase in May or June, you should try to visit local schools and give out flyers to the children in your target age range. Make sure to get permission from the Board of Education and principal first before you decide to do so!
Pro tip 7: To get more participants fast, ask already registered or interested participants to tell their friends and family about your camp. For Equalize It!, I had all of the parents who registered their daughters spread the word about my program to parents of their daughter’s friends. Through this effective method, I was able to get over half of my participants!
With these five steps accomplished, all you need to do is actually host your camp! If you are interested in hosting your own Equalize It! program or have any other questions, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope this article helped!