NRVCC holds female-only GenCyber Ninja Camp

Alexa Doiron

Camp assistant Daniel Tsang teaches students how to fly drones at all-female GenCyber Ninja Camp at NRVCC. The camp helps promote jobs in the technology field to young women in order to grow more diversity in the field.

It is no secret that the fields of engineering and technology are primarily dominated by men.

In fact, according to the Women’s Engineering Society, only a mere nine percent of the workforce is women. New River Valley Community College has sought out a solution to this problem by creating STEAM-oriented summer camps for young female students known as GenCyber Ninja camps. The students were able to use technology such as 3D printers, drones, and practice cyber security programming.

The concept of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) is spreading across the nation as school systems realize the need for students with experience in problem solving and engineering. However, the amount of men entering these fields is still largely disproportionate to the amount of women.

NRVCC is in its second year of female-oriented STEAM camps, which engage young women as early at 6th grade in fields that they are less exposed to than boys of the same age.

“With boys, their parents give them computerized toys when they’re two years old,” Carlotta Eaton, IT and Computer Science Program Chair, said. “Girls get the dolls. Boys are exposed to computers and technology all the time. You don’t usually buy Legos for girls, but boys get them and it teaches them how to build at a young age.”

The activities at the camp work with robotic technology and teaching the students how to use programing language C, which uses sensors to make robots do actions such as move boxes and make turns.

Eaton makes a point of explaining to the girls how these types of skills can be used in jobs locally such as with the company Torc, which has developed a type of self-driving car. The goal of the program is really to give these students an idea for the field and what they could do while they’re young.

Jeff Levy, Program Head and Lead Instructor for engineering and design at NRVCC, works with the youngest group of girls to teach them how to fly drones.

High school students at NRVCC’s GenCyber Ninja Camp work on Raspberry Pi computers to complete illustrations and understand the technology. These devices are the same ones used by illustrators at Disney and other well-known companies.

“Girls at a younger age are more focused, they’re easier to teach, and they respond better,” Levy said. “When they walk out of here they’re really going to know their interests and their mind will be going 100 miles an hour.”

Levy has worked with the students to use a 3D printer and design their own drone, which Levy hopes to have up and flying before the end of the week. The students enjoyed working with the drones, and many said it was one of their favorite activities of the camps so far.

Rising ninth grader, Alma Baker, said she really enjoyed working with the 3D printer because she wants to become a surgeon and will have to work with that technology. She wanted to participate in the camp because it would give her the experience she needs with different technology. The fact that it is an all-female camp though, she said, was a huge plus. The value of these camps doesn’t go without notice from the students, though. Baker said she is aware that the field she wants to go into has few women.

“It upsets me that mainly the fields are male, but it makes me feel a lot more helpful that there are all-girl camps helping us with technology and learning about the cyber world.”

Funding for the camp comes from the NSA and the National Science Foundation. Dave Filer, Lead Faculty at NRVCC, got the idea for the camps when he was at a conference in Florida last year. In the first year of the program, the grant only funded one camp but this year the program received funding for a second, more advanced camp. Next year, Filer hopes to expand the program even more and offer a co-ed option in addition to the all-girls camps.

Filer says there is a lot more funding for programs that work with young girls because they are so underrepresented in the field. The program works closely with STEM initiatives in order to promote careers in the field, and this year has added an artistic aspect by letting the students learn how to use and build Raspberry Pi software.

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card-sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It is a capable little computer which can be used in electronics projects, and for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word processing, browsing the internet, and playing games.

The students can do a lot of different artistic activities on the program, including illustration. The illustration programs in Raspberry Pi are the same ones used by large companies such as Disney. In fact, walking into a classroom of students drawing foxes and characters on the technology felt like walking into an illustrator’s studio.

James St Clair teaches game design and game programming at NRVCC and works directly with the students to show them not only how to use the program, but how to build it. St Clair has worked with different types of camps before, but he sees a great value in having girls-only camps. It allows the girls to be more confident when asking questions and when working on this technology.

All of the students, regardless of how young, get to work with the same technology as professionals in these fields. The students are doing projects that St Clair says he works on in his college classes as well.

Many of the students enjoy the female-oriented atmosphere because it gives them the experience they need, while making them feel hopeful about going into these career fields.

Willa Shea-Gangloff is a rising tenth grader who wants to work in construction and engineering. In addition to this camp, she has also participated in an all-female construction camp.

“The idea that going into a field where it is mostly male-dominated really scares me, because I know that I’ll probably have very few female allies in a work space,” said Shea-Gangloff. “But I like camps like this to help me going into my future.”

For more information on the camps visit the NRVCC website at

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