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ASU-supported CompuGirls Hawaii program succeeds with technological innovation

BY TETTLEMA – DECEMBER 15, 2020

As the world entered lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many plans, events and programs had to go on hold...indefinitely. When faced with this uncertainty, ASU-supported CompuGirls Hawaii had to restructure and retool their program in order to continue to foster social and technological change, working with adolescent girls (grades 8-12) interested in STEM fields. 

But how would the ASU team, in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), the University of Hawaii and CyberHawaii, find a way to ensure effective professional development for Hawaii-based teachers, who would be instructing 50 girls from across all of Hawaii’s islands? At the heart of it all was Zoom.

CompuGirls stays connected with Zoom

CompuGirls is the product of the ASU Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology, which itself is a part of the School of Social Transformation, and is headed by Dr. Kimberly Scott. As Scott explains, the program aims to teach “power skills” that include collaboration, coalition-building, community advancement and other socially conscious abilities.

The Hawaii affiliate of the technology program is focused on cybersecurity, so this chapter especially centered its program on cybersecurity-building technical skills, which complemented the “power skills” Scott noted above. For six weeks, the all-girl cohort joined their instructors via Zoom each Saturday for three hours, just the first of three “semesters” that will see different cohorts of 50 girls participating in CompuGirls Hawaii curriculum.

Besides letting everyone safely gather virtually and continue to foster the students’ interests and skills, Zoom also enabled things that would have not been likely in a pre-pandemic world. Phenomenal guest speakers were able to attend different sessions and closing ceremonies for the program, including Louie Lopez, Director of the DoD’s STEM program, Karrin Felton, Manager of the DoD’s SMART program, and Major General Suzanne Vares-Lum.

Scott said that Zoom allowed for girls from every island to participate, which is not typically the norm for Hawaii programs. ASU’s support of the technology also allowed for sessions to be as interactive as possible, with jam boards and breakout rooms taking things beyond static lectures. In looking towards the future, Scott shared that the use of Zoom will allow the program to be more dynamic, offering a hybrid setting that combines in-person and remote experiences. Scott noted considerations have to be paid to the cost of wifi extenders, as they were needed for girls in areas that did not have reliably high-speed internet.

Preparing the next generation 

As for how the whole program went in a wholly unprecedented modality, Scott was pleasantly surprised. “It was fascinating to see the girls interact with each other in a different way [on Zoom],” she said. “It was interesting to see how the technology was manipulated to serve their goals, and it really showed how the results are only limited by the limitations of the creator.” Scott praised the girls’ final projects, which took form as public service announcements for different aspects of cybersecurity. “Their personalities shined through, they put in a lot of work, and to see how they used statistics and data, it was phenomenal.”

Scott said the program team still needs to debrief on the subject of how things can be changed and improved for future semesters, but for now, she can envision the implementation of other technological tools, such as those that can enable virtual field trips. Even still, the success of this inaugural semester of CompuGirls Hawaii was strong, even in the face of a global pandemic. “We were all really impressed with how much [the girls] learned,” Scott concluded.

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