Astra Burke ’20 Receives Grant to Host Summer Camp

Computer Science Club member organizes a computer science camp for girls
For one student, her love of computer science and coding led her to start a week-long summer camp for underserved girls.
Astra Burke, a GPS rising senior involved with the Computer Science Club and SWENext, secured a $3,000 grant from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) to host a summer camp for girls in grades 2-5. Camp participants from area schools had an opportunity to learn how to code, create interactive posters, and engineer a moon base out of drinking straws. Each day followed a theme, including animals, art, space, fashion, and the city of Chattanooga.

The final day of camp, which ran June 3 through 7 at Girls Preparatory School, included a field trip to Adventure Sports Innovation, where they had a STEM session and played with some of the gear ASI has in their storefront on Coolidge Park, including virtual reality simulators such as Flymax, an extreme hang gliding experience.

This was a new experience for Burke, from managing a budget to finding participants and volunteers. She appreciated giving young girls a chance to learn about science and information technology.

“I learned that even at a young age, girls are interested in science,” Burke says. “In traditional environments with boys or older kids, younger girls might be intimidated, but they really enjoyed being in the all-girls environment and learning about technology.”

Burke was eligible to apply for grant money, made possible by NCWIT, after winning one of the organization’s Aspirations in Computing awards. She received a 2019 award and 2018 honorable mention based on an essay, her academic achievements, and involvement in STEM-related activities. Her teacher, Jill Pala Pieritz ’97, encouraged her to apply for the award, which led to her idea for hosting a camp.

While the summer camp was a one-time event, camp participants were eager to come back next year. Burke would like to apply for the grant again—and she’s eligible as a 2019 award winner. She was grateful for the support and help from teachers Mr. Will Glass, Mrs. Lisa Wilkes, Mrs. Amanda Hayslett, and Mrs. Pieritz, as well as Computer Science Club members Katie Eck ’20, Astha Sinha ’21, Emma Brandao ’21, Jennifer Wu ’21, Meredith Bevill ’20, Rebecca Hayslett ’23.