SURGE into STEM XR Camp with Dr. Aleshia Hayes

Three female grade school students holding VR goggles.

In-person summer camp returned to the College of Information with a new program aimed at introducing young girls to STEM Careers. Learning Technologies Assistant Professor Aleshia Hayes received several awards to create the Girls SURGE into STEM XR camp. The largest award came from the community action grant from American Association of University Women (AAUW). Following Covid-19 guidelines the camp was held at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth from July 12-16, 2021. 

“My purpose for the camp was to connect young ladies with opportunities to learn about the different kinds of STEM careers and to see women in those fields.  I wanted to address the address disparities to educational attainment, employment, and wealth in minority communities, particularly in Fort Worth communities through STEM Education, changing girl’s sense of self-efficacy with emerging technology, and to introduce them to design thinking as well as user experience testing principles,” says Hayes. 

The camp was opened to underrepresented girls in the 6th-12th grades in Fort Worth. Hayes and her teaching assistant introduced emerging technology including design thinking, user experience (UX) testing, and prototyping. In addition to the introductions students learned to critically evaluate commercial augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The camp itinerary also included daily Zoom meetings with diverse STEM professionals in Biology, Chemistry, Anthropology, Computer Science, and Engineering. 

“I will invite even more amazing women in STEM to speak to the girls, and while the young women this year did paper prototyping of their ideas, next year, they will use digital prototyping tools to prototype their own ideas,” says Hayes. She says the goal is for young women in the project to shift their perspective of what scientists look like and be empowered to share and create STEM content they can use to educate and empower others.

Hayes will be assessing the pilot summer camp and design of the program including organization of the students, engagement with mentors, and the structure of the invited speakers. Hayes will also be taking back the data collected to her SURGE Lab at Discovery Park to review the outcomes. 

“This study is significant because students are struggling to keep up with learning goals during the time of Covid-19 and distance learning.  The learning outcomes are affected by student attention, engagement, and retention. Learning is also directly correlated to social presence in environments.  This study has the potential to delineate an effective approach to engaging online students with avatars instead of the current practice of employing video conferencing,” says Hayes. 

Next year the camp will be held at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.