AspireIT Program: Bulldog Bytes!


The Bulldog Bytes Aspire IT camp was held June 23-27, 2013, on the campus of Mississippi State University (MSU). Sixteen middle school girls moved into the dorm on Sunday afternoon. Following move-in, the girls were welcomed by Camp Leader and Aspirations in Computing Recipient Rian Walker and MSU faculty member Dr. Sarah Lee. In addition, Mrs. Leigh Sawicki from FedEx Corporation, drawing from her experiences in a computing career, offered words of inspiration to the girls as they embarked on their four day journey into the world of technology. A pizza party and games followed where the girls began to get to know each other. Camp counselors were introduced. Those included Carly Daniewicz, a high school sophomore, computer science undergraduates Candace Moreau, Eleashia Hodges, and Chelse Swoopes, and software engineering undergraduates Leah Buttrum and Melissa Harkins. Additionally, female computer science graduate students Anna Harrison and Tyler Greer and Business Information Systems student Samantha also served as counselors.

Following breakfast in the dorm on Monday morning, the girls walked to Butler Hall which houses the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Department. Dr. Wesley McGrew, a CSE faculty member and subject matter expert in computer security, talked to them about the risks of identity theft and techniques for protecting personal information online. The girls were tasked with using the programming techniques they learn and their creativity to develop a mechanism for educating their peers about identity theft.

After a break, Rian Walker led the introduction of Scratch programming to the group. The girls spent the afternoon creating programs with scratch and wrapped up the afternoon with a trip to the movies, hosted by counselor Anna. After dinner at the University cafeteria, Samantha, lead resident-hall counselor, reported a late night of girl talk at the dorm following the movie. 

Tuesday morning opened with an introduction to Finch robots by Dr. Cindy Bethel, Director of the MSU Social, Therapeutic, and Robotic Systems (STaRS) Lab. The girls spent time throughout the day learning to program the Finch robots using Snap, a language very similar to Scratch. Dr. McGrew returned to the lab to continue his educational discussion on identify theft risks with the group after lunch. The afternoon culminated with a visit from Mrs. Regina Dean Read, owner of Computer Medics of North Mississippi and an MSU graduate. She shared her experiences starting and running a technology business. Following a barbeque dinner hosted by Dr. Dave Dampier, Director of the Center for Computer Security Research & National Forensics Training Center at MSU, the girls enjoyed a QR code scavenger hunt designed by counselor Anna. The activity took them across campus and offered small prizes for the 1st and 2nd place winners.

Wednesday began early with a trip to a local stable for horseback riding. The girls enjoyed a trail ride which for some was their first time to ride a horse. The rest of the day the girls worked on their projects in small groups. Their last evening meal at camp was generously donated and prepared by Mrs. Deborah Hines, owner of the Marquee Fish Hut in Jackson, MS. 

Thursday brought the last day of camp and time for project work in the morning. After lunch at the cafeteria, the girls were joined by family and friends in the auditorium in Butler Hall for a wrap-up ceremony which included presentation of each group’s identify theft educational tool.  It was amazing to see how the girls were able to use Scratch and/or Snap and the Finch robots to create an animation about identify theft.

Each girl was presented with their goodie bag and recognized individually for their accomplishments. Rian Walker showed a video with photographs from the entire week. The video did a great job of summarizing the amazing experience that the girls had. Many of them verbalized that they did not want the camp to be over. With many post-camp survey comments from the camp girls similar to “I feel more confident in technology” and "it increased my confidence on trying new things"; we believe it was a great success and can hardly wait to host another camp.

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