The Girls Who Code Club from Seacoast School of Technology, which is an afterschool program for girls of all ages (between the ages of 6 and 14) that focuses on their interest in learning more about programming and development, visited the UNH IOL on April 6, 2016 for their evening after school activity. This was their first field trip as a club and it was an unprecedented experience.
The mission of the STEM Outreach program at the IOL is to expose younger generations to engineering and technology through activities either here or at interested schools (where a group of IOL volunteers take a trip to said schools). Typically these events will happen during business hours with school age students first having a tour in the open lab and finishing with a hands-on activity both being led by UNH student employees.
The Girls Who Code Club was a unique group in that they already had a motivation to learn and understand programming and engineering. Although they started out as a shy group, which isn’t unusual as it can be overwhelming at first, they felt more comfortable opening up with questions and experiences as time went on and more conversation happened.
As we stopped the tour in the Ethernets consortium and showed the girls the test beds,they instantly became interested in the technology exposed to them and had begun asking questions about how some of it worked. When we moved onto the anti-static room the group grew to be more confident in asking questions. Unlike most tours, where the IOL student employees are working hard in the lab while groups go through, this time the lab was virtually empty and this gave them the unique opportunity to explore the anti-static room which is quite impressive with an abundance of oscilloscopes and other industry test tools., Paul Willis, one of the graduate student technicians, explained how it all works. Eventually they felt comfortable approaching Paul and myself with questions, at one point crowding themselves around us with several inquiries ready to be asked.
After we rounded them back up into the group we led them to the wireless testing chambers, another area they were extremely interested in discovering more about. The girls excitedly went inside and imagined what it would be like to test the chambers in a normal environment. Again, questions surged with enthusiasm about how the wireless chambers worked.
It was around this time that the tour of the lab finally wrapped up. What would normally be a twenty minute tour finished after forty minutes. We made our way back to the lobby to wait for the parents to pick up the girls. One of the youngest students stopped me and asked me to explain exactly what it is that the IOL employees do. Although we had given them a quick explanation of our typical work and the IOL’s missions and values, it turns out they were interested in knowing the exact process and requested that I explain it to them in ‘layman's’ terms. While the young students slowly found their rides and the group got smaller and smaller there was no breaking their attention as I carefully went over the process of being a test technician.
As the final groups left they all expressed their gratitude, both the students and the teachers accompanying them. My personal experience giving tours had always been average, however the Girls Who Could Club had offered such a unique experience as young people seeing the lab for the first time. Their genuine interest in how the lab works and engineering in general can be rare from a tour group, especially from one’s as young as them.