Chictech Retreat Returns as Annual Tradition

On Nov. 7–8, IllinoisWCS invited 50 high school girls on a weekend retreat to learn more about Computer Science at the University of Illinois.

After taking a hiatus last year, WCS rebooted Chictech and with the efforts of Brianna Ifft, our Outreach Director, this year saw great feedback and many girls leaving with a positive experience.

49 girls from around 20 high schools in or near the Champaign-Urbana area came and stayed with us for a weekend. More than 40 student volunteers came and helped throughout the entire weekend (including some sleeping over in Siebel), as well as 5 industry volunteers from MasterCard and Turn, Inc. helped out with the 3 workshops. 20 companies headquartered all across the country sent swag and gifts for the girls, including an AppDynamics sleeping mask, Airbnb socks, USB chargers, and pens on pens on pens.

On Saturday, after registration and a brief breakfast of Einstein’s Bagels, the girls listened to a talk about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and how they can incorporate some of the principles into their own lives. Afterwards, an activity followed where the girls got to express what they would do if they weren’t afraid.

WCS Mentoring Director Vaishali Khandewal leads the Lean In discussion.

Workshops soon followed after the Lean In talk. Girls indicated their level of coding experience when they registered and were placed into workshops accordingly. For beginners, there was the workshop on Scratch, MIT’s open-source platform for learning to code, led by Lucy Chang, Preska Sharma and Crystal Wang. An intermediate workshop of HTML/CSS taught by Ambika Dubey and Jingxian Zhang allowed girls to start building their own personal websites. And finally, for those who had more experience, they could build their own soundboard and learn about interactivity on the web through a Javascript workshop taught by Emily Chao.

The HTML/CSS workshop hard at work on their personal websites.
Projects underway for the Scratch workshop!
Downloading the starter code for the Javascript workshop from Github

After coding for 4 hours, the girls were ready for a break. Hence, the scavenger hunt. The girls formed 10 teams and with their volunteer leaders, scurried throughout the Engineering Campus. We had several prizes: Most Illini Pride, Most Dramatic, Most Humorous, and Most Epic “Out of this World”. The results were pretty great.

Just some of the many pictures we got.

A delicious dinner of Noodles and Company awaited the girls as they came filing back from the hunt. Shreya Sharma and Lauren Ciardiello led a quick game of Jeopardy.

Lining up for Noodles!
Jeopardy! I know the answer!

To conclude the night, volunteers hosted Girls’ Night. Legally Blonde played while girls painted their nails and made jewelry out of computer parts.

Girls night in action! Nail art, Computer jewelry and a good ol’ movie.
Getting ready for the night.

The next day, we started off with breakfast and a couple of group photos, as well as a student panel. The panelists, Han Chen, Sathvika Ashokkumar, Madeleine Psenka, and Emily Chao, answered questions ranging from types of classes at UIUC, to what programming languages students learn. Afterwards, we held a raffle for a Intel laptop and a tablet.

Congrats to Jocelyn for winning the laptop!

Then, it was onto the workshops to finish their projects.

Professor Cinda Heeren gave a presentation about how computer science and computing intersects with other activities and subjects, with anything ranging from literature to double dutch. She then presented a random song generator using probabilities and matrices generated from “Mary had a Little Lamb.”

With Papa Del’s in hand for lunch, the girls began demos. Scratch went first, then HTML/CSS, followed by Javascript and although there were some technical difficulties, it was still great to see what the girls had accomplished over just the span of a weekend.

Some students from each workshop presented their project.
Showing off Airbnb socks!

To the girls who attended, thank you for coming out! To the volunteers, thank you very much for your time! We hope to hold this event again next year!

Written by Emily Chao. Fact-checked and edited by Brianna Ifft, Hanna Koh, and Annie Rong.

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