Middle School Girls Rock STEM with Raspberry Pi Micro Computers

Written by Asa Bradley, SFCC Physics Professor

In 2014, Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC) received a three-year National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant aimed at increasing the enrollment and retention of female students in our Information Technology (IT) programs. The grant project is named Rebranding the 21st Century IT Technician (DUE 1400451) and has three main goals: 1) Change the Perceptions of Potential Students, 2) Change the Perceptions of Enrolled Students, and 3) Change the Perceptions of Local Employers.

The part of our grant that I and my Co-PIs, Michele Moore and Max Josquin, have probably enjoyed the most is also the component that has gotten the most attention from our community: The Summer Information Technology Camp for middle school girls.

During the last three summers, our female SFCC IT students have inspired more than 220 middle schoolers to choose more science and math classes in high school so that they can prepare for a STEM college major. Each camp participant receives a Raspberry Pi microcomputer to take home with them. During the camp, they are taught hardware, software, programming, and networking by learning how to configure their Raspberry Pis to play Minecraft, as well as the basics of programming in Scratch.

Here are some testimonials from our campers:

  • When I first came here I didn't know much but now I know more than I thought I would even learn in any other class.
  • Everything was a lot of fun. Because of this I may actually take the computer science class in High School and join some of those clubs.
  • It’s a great way to make friends and learn about S.T.E.M. and IT.
  • It was so amazing and so great I am coming back next year.


And it isn’t just the campers who have gained great skills during our event. Our SFCC Student Instructors impressed everyone the very first year with how they took ownership of designing and delivering the camp curriculum, how quickly they developed leadership and collaboration skills, and how much they increased their confidence in their own IT knowledge.  We couldn’t have done this project without our amazing student instructors: Amanda Dorsey, Angela Rickerson (the designer of our camp logo), Sabrina Hobbs, Catherine Donnay, Emily Pemberton, Amy Whittle, Emilyn Kracher, Jasmine Coleman, Heather Hadley, and Shanna McGuire. (Amanda and Shanna are part of this year’s very first graduating class of our new four-year IS degree here at Spokane Falls!)

A big part of the summer camp success is due to us using the SFCC students as teachers. The middle school girls see themselves much more clearly in a 20-something college student than in a middle-aged college instructor and this shows up in our outcomes. Here’s a quote from our external grant evaluator, Terryll Bailey of the Allyson Group:

"There was significant change in perception between the pre-and-post self-reporting of the girls in terms of self-efficacy and career awareness.  In every case, there was an increase in the percentage of girls who strongly agreed with the [affirmative STEM] statement after the camp, and the percentage change figures were unusually high when compared with other camps of this kind and similar questions, which usually produce figures in the 5% to 20% range."

And there have been other amazing successes. Last year, Sabrina and Angela, applied for the student/recent alumni scholarship to attend the NSF ATE conference in Washington DC in October. They were both accepted. While they attended the conference with Michele and me, they participated in student specific events such as a special showcase where they highlighted our project and their participation in our outreach events. They also attended a recognition breakfast where they met other students attending the conference.

Senator Pat Murray took an interest in our grant when it was first awarded and when Michele informed her office that two of our student instructors would be in Washington DC, they arranged for Senator Murray’s Education Specialist to talk directly with Sabrina and Angela to get their perspective on our grant project. They also arranged a tour of the Capitol Building for all of us, led by a senator aid. When we first met Sabrina in year 1 of our project, she was so shy she couldn’t make eye contact with us. Two and a half years later, she discussed the importance of the grant and her contributions to the project in an articulate and very professional way in an office in Washington DC.  

If you’d like to learn more about our grant activities and see Sabrina and Angela discuss why they decided to become involved in our project, watch this YouTube video:


For any additional questions or if you’d like more information about the other aspects of the Rebranding the 21st Century IT Professional grant, please contact:

PI Asa Bradley, MS, MFA                                                              Co-PI Michele Moore, PhD                                       


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