Fresh off the heels of the Beijing Olympics this summer, middle school girls from around the State College area created their own Olympic-themed virtual worlds at the College of Information Sciences and Technology's Virtual Adventures camp, held during September and October.
Seventeen girls from the State College Area School District and area charter schools participated in the camp, the third in a series designed to promote technology among middle-school aged girls. The girls were split into teams and worked with mentors from Women in IST (WIST) to create museums for six different Olympic sports.
The camp was previously held last spring and over the summer. One new feature this time was a chat function that allowed the girls to communicate with the mentors and each other within the virtual world. The girls also completed ice-breaker activities using the chat.
"The chat was a great way for us to bring more of the conversations into the world," said Kim Buchter (senior, IST), one of the WIST mentors. "We used it to teach them new skills and to help with any questions or problems they had."
This semester's program also included a trip to the Penn State All-Sports Museum to give the girls a little inspiration on how to create their own virtual museums.
Buchter said she continues to be impressed by how quickly the girls pick up the technology involved with creating the virtual world.
"Once they know how the program works, they tend to get really into it," she said. "We even have a hard time getting them to take a break for lunch or another activity."
The girls said they enjoyed expanding their computer skills and meeting new friends along the way.
"I liked making our museums and going to the sports museum," said Larissa Burka, 12, of State College. "It was hard to learn at first, but once I did it was really cool."
"It was really fun and I got to meet new people," Burka continued, pointing to her teammates Fatu Pombor, 11, of State College, and Sarah Miley 11, of State College.
The virtual worlds program began last year when Jan Mahar, IST's manager of outreach programs, met with researchers from Cornell University who were looking for ways to encourage females to enter the male-dominated Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics fields. The virtual worlds software is housed at Cornell and the research is supported by a National Science Foundation grant.
The camp will be held this winter on the following dates: Jan. 24, Jan. 31, Feb. 7 and Feb. 14. Applications will be due in early January and can be obtained by contacting Mahar at email@example.com or (814) 863-9088.