IBM appeals to girls with microchipped butterflies

Twenty five girls between the ages of 12 and 13 released a group of microchipped butterflies last week

Tracking Monarch butterflies on their route from Toronto to the Mexican border might be just what a 12-year-old girl needs to spark daydreams about growing up to design her own micro RFID chip.

Twenty five girls between the ages of 12 and 13 released a group of microchipped butterflies last week, one of several activities on the roster this year at IBM Canada Inc.'s 3-day E.X.I.T.E. camp.

Hosted every summer the IBM Toronto Lab in Markham, Ont., E.X.I.T.E. encourages pre-teen girls to take an interest in technology and engineering and inspire them to pursue further studies in high school. School counselors and teachers nominate camp participants for the IBM-funded program, which is restricted to females in grades seven and eight.

This year, the girls created robots out of legos and programmed them to dance, performed DNA experiments on bananas and searched for film canisters filled with stickers and quiz questions using GPS. Other activities included learning about green technology and developing cartoon animations using Scratch, a 3D programming language with a graphical interface.

"It's designed to give them positive female role models in the technology and engineering fields, to give them an idea of hands-on approaches to learning about these areas and to encourage them to pursue and explore careers in these areas," said Sarah Naqvi, co-chair of the E.X.I.T.E. Camp in Toronto.

Naqvi, who works in software support engineering at the IBM Toronto Software lab, looks forward to the program every year. "We see the rewards down the road, when you see girls who have been through the program for several years and are pursuing education in these areas. It's something fun for everyone involved," she said.

Females are under-represented in the technology and engineering industries and various studies and research have shown that enrollment of females in these fields are declining, Naqvi pointed out.

A tech background is not required and many girls aren't even interested in technology to begin with. "I originally didn't want to do it, but now I do," said Indigo, one of this year's participants. "I want to do it again next year with some of my other friends because I think they would enjoy it too."

Shimirma, another camp participant, also enjoyed the experience. "I learned technology is more fun. I used to have that weird impression that they were geeks behind a computer with the big glasses and everything, but that's changed," she said.

The girls all have great feedback, said Wini Mark, co-chair of the E.X.I.T.E. Camp and software developer at the IBM Toronto Lab. "They learn a lot from the camp, so it's a great success," she said.

E.X.I.T.E. (Exploring Interests in Technology and Engineering) is one of several IBM Technology Camps designed to encourage middle school students around the world to take an interest in technology, engineering, math and science. The IMB Toronto Lab has run E.X.I.T.E. for the past nine years.

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