The girls giggled as they pulled on their virtual reality goggles. They laughed as they designed robotic arms using circuits and cardboard.
But they also knew that this summer camp at Delta College wasn’t just for entertainment. They understood that the college’s partnership with Verizon is intended to open their eyes to their career potential in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math — fields in which women have historically been underrepresented.
“This camp actually kind of changed my life,” said 10-year-old Kaylonie Vickers, a student at Marshall Elementary School in Stockton.
The three-week Verizon Innovative Learning camp is bringing more than 100 middle school-aged girls from across Stockton Unified School District to Delta’s campus, where for seven hours each day they are taught the basic principles of virtual reality, circuitry, coding, 3D printing and more.
The camp will be over in late July, but the students will attend monthly workshops during the academic year as well, with the goal of finding a technological solution to world problems like poverty, climate change or gender equality.
If the girls see it through to the end, they each get to keep a Verizon tablet.
Verizon launched the program last year on a pilot basis, in partnership with the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship. Alese Campbell, the small business deputy sector navigator at Delta, heard about the program at a conference.
“I said, ‘If they open this program up we have to figure out a way to apply for this,’” she said.
The program did open up, and Campbell and Community Education Supervisor Silvia Calderon jumped at the opportunity. Delta was the only college from California out of the 16 colleges participating nationally this year. Overall, about 1,500 students are taking part.
“The girls are extremely happy,” Calderon said. “And the parents are very engaged so we’re very happy with that, too.”
Verizon Innovative Learning is actually a two-year program, with another summer camp to be held at Delta next year involving a new cohort of students. Verizon has also contributed equipment like 3D printers and the virtual reality headsets.
The camp is taught by four teachers from across the county. A dozen Delta students are volunteering to help out. And guest speakers from tech industries are also helping to inspire the next generation of tech entrepreneurs.
Arranging all of this has taken some work, but the need is clear: By 2020, more than three-quarters of U.S. jobs will require technology skills. But millions of students still lack access to the technology that can help them develop those skills.
Eleven-year-old Nanci Hernandez’s lesson on virtual reality didn’t stop when she took off the goggles. She and her friends were then tasked with designing their own virtual reality experience.
“I’m really happy that I came here,” she said. “It’s awesome.”
Read more coverage from The Record here.