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Free robotics camp for young Black girls celebrates success

Some+of+the+girls+in+the+inaugural+Ujima+GIRL+%28Girls+in+Robotics+Leadership%29+Project+gather+for+a+group+photo+with+project+officials+in+2022.+Photo+courtesty+of+UC+Davis+Center+for+Integrated+Computing+and+STEM+Education%0A
Some of the girls in the inaugural Ujima GIRL (Girls in Robotics Leadership) Project gather for a group photo with project officials in 2022. Photo courtesty of UC Davis Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education

This summer, the Ujima Girls in Robotics Leadership Camp is once again being offered to Antioch Unified School District middle and high school students interested in STEM.

Also known as C-STEM GIRL Camp, the project aims to inspire and encourage young African American and Black girls to learn about and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Additionally, this project aims to address the challenges of equity and inclusion for girls in STEM fields at no charge to participants.

The Ujima GIRL project and GIRL Camp introduces these girls to robotics by teaching them about community building, how to code and assemble robots, and how to interact with guest speakers. It allows students to find a role model in one of the program leads, who then provides mentorship to the girls. 

The program was founded by Harry H. Cheng, Faheemah N. Mustafaa and Teresa Aldredge. The four-day camps began at Antioch High School in June, however, there are camps throughout the summer in Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno and Lancanster. For more information, visit Ujima Girl’s website.

The name Ujima is Swahili for “collective work and responsibility,” which embodies the camp’s spirit. In the Ujima GIRL Camp, the students work together using robotics and hands-on coding, community-building and cultural activities to develop leadership skills. The young women also will engage with female college students, women in STEM, and female teachers. 

“The peer mentoring aspect is important in the Ujima GIRL program because you work in teams when coding our robot,” said Genesis Smith, a Ujima GIRLS alumni. “If I was struggling, trying to figure out how to code the robot a certain way, my friend would help me out.”

Smith also said learning about teamwork is key in this program. 

“We would work through it together, figure out together, try new things and experiment,” she said. “And that’s what’s so awesome about your peers and teams because you can’t do something just by yourself. You need a team.” 

The program is four days long and is divided into two levels: Ujima GIRL Camp for middle school students and Ujima GIRL+ Camp for high school students. The curriculum has the girls learning C-STEM math and computer science using RoboBlocky for the first half of the program and then building a robot that solves a challenge in their community for the second half. Alongside this, the girls may participate in a field trip. For example, Ujima GIRL participants went to Garner Holt’s animatronics to see how STEM is applied in the real world.

At the end of the program, girls are awarded a certificate of completion and are eligible for the Ujima GIRL Leadership Award. A plus: Ujima also is recognized as an approved Educational Preparation Program for University of California undergraduate admissions. To participate, you must be an incoming 6th-12th grade student who attends a participating school district and identify as Black or African American female. 

Although this summer’s programs may be filled, Ujima GIRL Camp encourages starting your own club. Two previous participants did just that, successfully creating “Girls Can Too!” at American Canyon High School. Bay Area Teen Science (B.A.T.S.) also has information about internships, workshops, and network meetings on other STEM programs similar to Ujima GIRL.

Many studies have shown that girls and women are underrepresented in STEM fields. According to the Global Gender Gap 2023 Report, “Women comprise only 29.2% of the STEM workforce in 146 nations evaluated, compared to nearly 50% of non-STEM occupations. Despite a 1.58% increase in STEM female workers between 2015 and 2023, a troubling gender imbalance remains.” 

“Ujima GIRLS empowered me to look further into STEM because of how many women are interested in the STEM field, but also gave me the confidence to do anything, to know that women are just as smart, just as strong, just as intelligent as men, and we can be in any field that we want to be,” alumni Smith said.

Another program alumni, E’Niyah Berry, said participating in the program gave her more than just a better understanding of STEM.

“The Ujima GIRLS program empowered my success by giving me new knowledge within STEM, which made me feel more confident,” Berry said. “The program gives participants a chance to make innovative projects, be around others who have the same goals and meet new people locally. I would tell anyone considering joining to just jump in and do it because it’s such a good program and it gives you a lot in such a short period of time.”

Smith agreed.

“I loved all the friends that I made, the connections I made, the mentors that I met,” she said. “The Ujima GIRLS program is the best and I hope that whoever is reading this, participates in the Ujima GIRLS program because it is amazing.”

*Additional Resources:

Ujima GIRL, About us | C-STEM (ucdavis.edu)

Ujima GIRL | C-STEM (ucdavis.edu)

NSF’s NCSES releases report on diversity trends in STEM workforce and education | NSF – National Science 

Opportunities – Bay Area Teen Science

Emma Mayta Canales will be an 11th grader this fall at Deer Valley High School in Antioch.  

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