Citi tech camp makes summer STEM-possible!

This summer, 30 rising eighth grade girls took on a new challenge by participating in the Citi Tech Camp. In the second year of the program sponsored by Citi, the format was quickly adjusted from an in-person structure to a completely virtual one, due to the ongoing pandemic. The STEM camp was designed to introduce girls to the working world of STEM careers by providing hands-on engagement with STEM programming in a virtual environment.

The Citi Tech Camp was essential in keeping youth academically engaged, while ensuring connectivity with peers in a virtual setting. As part of its sponsorship, Citi provided each girl with a laptop and stipend. To encourage the girls to continue pursuing their interests in STEM, the laptops became theirs to keep upon program completion. Program facilitator, Big Thought, also organized Citi Tech Camp creative kits chock full of all the supplies needed for the week’s activities.

Knowing that each girl would bring her own unique experience, comfort level and working knowledge of STEM careers to the program, site coordinator Keila Williams was mindful to meet the girls where they were. Social and emotional wellness techniques were intentionally integrated into the program design to allow moments to reset and reflect during each day’s lessons. With supplies in hand, each day started with a “Mindful Moment” check-in with the girls via Zoom, followed by a discussion of the day’s objectives.

“I never thought I liked techy things, but I realized that I could use my art and creativity to add to the project!”

The program was divided into two week-long cohorts, which each cohort of 15 girls further split into teams to complete a Design Challenge centered on building a healthy lifestyle. Paired with an instructor and STEM consultant, the girls were tasked with building a website, developing a mobile app, and producing a commercial. Citi employees participated as mentors to help guide the girls, sharing their own career paths, interests and insights to connect the Design Challenge to future career opportunities in STEM.

In a week’s time, the girls transformed from eighth grade students into young innovators as they learned new tech skills, completed outlined project objectives, and presented their finished projects to parents, Citi mentors and program facilitators. Much like a real workplace, the young innovators faced a few obstacles, ranging from technical issues to project delays. “When I got stuck, I really didn’t know what to do, but someone from the website team helped me get part of [the project] together and we were able to finish. I never thought I liked techy things, but I realized that I could use my art and creativity to add to the project,” stated camp participant, Yasmin H.

Collaborating in a virtual environment can be difficult for even the most seasoned professional, but camp mentors were impressed with the tenacity the girls displayed during the week. “They were completely focused even though the sessions were virtual. They worked closely, just like a team would in a physical setting,” shared Surya R., a Citi mentor. In the end, the young ladies supported each other in afternoon team hours and learned how to pivot to get the work done.

“The kids were sharp, smart and cheerful. Despite the technical snags, the kids were resilient, never gave up and were persistent on their goal to finish the project,” said Citi mentor, Vanitha S.

After completing the Design Challenge, 15 girls from the first two weeks of the program were selected to participate in a three-day service learning and reflection wrap-up, which highlighted The Power of Giving Back and featured a Citi technical workshop focused on financial literacy. The girls also had an opportunity to engage with more SEL-oriented activities, painting their own crown with Sarah’z Girls and exploring the wonders of science through various Academic Armor science experiments.

Program sponsors, facilitators, instructors and mentors all agree that the development the girls achieved in such a short time was simply amazing. From day one, where some girls weren’t comfortable with cameras on, or only the top of their heads or ceiling fans were visible on screen, to the end of the week, where the girls were present and accounted for, cameras on, speaking confidently, engaging with each other, asking questions and sharing ideas, the growth was undeniable. While the pandemic was an added obstacle for these girls, they stepped to the plate and crushed it, building essential skills in teamwork, accountability, project and time management, and leadership.