Twenty girls on the brink of middle school spent two weeks on the Belknap Campus learning through the June “Design Your Future” day camp.  

 The campers just finished fifth grade at Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School and J.B. Atkinson Academy for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, a UofL Signature Partnership school. They refined their problem-solving and storytelling skills at the free, daily workshops offered by the English department and Liberal Studies Project to raise the girls’ competence and confidence while combating the “summer slide” in reading and writing skills especially heading into middle school.

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 “I think of it as a creative, multimedia way to solve a series of problems,” said Mary P. Sheridan, UofL English professor and community literacy advocate who led the effort to help girls learn to be producers as well as consumers of technology in a quest for jobs of the future. The group plans to seek funding sources so the academy can become an annual offering. The Liberal Studies Project funded the initial academy and provided tablet computers the girls can keep to continue polishing their newly developed techniques.

Leading the daily workshops were UofL doctoral students in rhetoric and composition, who learned more about teaching with technology as well as designing, operating, tweaking and evaluating the curriculum for the girls. Elizabeth Chamberlain, Rachel Gramer, Megan Hartline, Susannah Kilbourne and Hollye Wright did daily blogging and produced their own movies, and later they expect to publish in academic journals and apply the experience to their own research and teaching.

“I think it exceeded my expectations in really all the areas,” said Gramer, who called the camp project an opportunity to tackle teaching, scholarship and service. “I think we all learned.”

 The first week the girls experimented with the free moviemaking and digital manipulation software to make individual videos about how they envisioned their futures. Week two was devoted to group projects in which the girls identified social issues important to them and collaborated on how they might figure into the solutions. While looking for images to use in their projects, the girls also explored media messages pertaining to gender.

UofL President James Ramsey, relatives and other supporters attended the girls’ June 27 showcase of their videos and presentations about what they learned. UofL business professor Nat Irwin, a futurist, also spoke at the camp about what qualities might lead to success.

Lexi Benton’s group talked about problems such as judging people based on their race or religion and then decided to make their video about bullying. “That’s a big problem especially in schools,” said Benton, who portrayed a newscaster.  “Two of us are going to be the mean girls and two of us are going to be the ones who get picked on,” while others played a principal and a bystander.

Her mother, Jessica Benton, attended the showcase with Lexi’s younger siblings. “I think it’s a good learning experience for her,” she said.

“My favorite thing I take away from this is meeting all the friends and having so much fun at this camp,” Lexi said afterward. “What I’ll mostly use in the future is iMovies (video-editing software) to make commercials for a business that I’ll own.”

Nevaeh Rucker learned how to upload and add features to video, but she also benefited from the collaboration. “It’s a group but you get to do your own thing in a group,” she said.

“Making movies and creating things” were what interested Makhiya Reed-Tolliver. “My project is about talents and how we use different talents. I represent acting.” Other talents represented in her group’s video were drawing, photography, singing and sports.

 Camper Melina Hunt’s mother praised the effort in a note to Sheridan.

“Melina absolutely loves camp. She keeps saying how free and comfortable she feels with the counselors and the other girls there,” Mandi Hunt said. “This program has really opened up her eyes to some things, and she has been speaking avidly of what direction she wants to go in careerwise now. It’s very exciting.”  

Glynis Ridley, English department chair, called the academy “the best sort of community engagement. It’s a very real way to connect to the local community. This shows what we do in English and what we can do with an English degree.

Judy Hughes
Judy Hughes is a senior communications and marketing coordinator for UofL’s Office of Communications and Marketing and associate editor of UofL Magazine. She previously worked in news as a writer and editor for a daily newspaper and The Associated Press.