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Loyola University New Orleans Music Industry Studies Graduate Rolls Out 'Electric Girls'

Loyola press release - August 7, 2015

Recent Alumna’s Senior Thesis Project Captures the Attention of 4.0 Schools Incubator Program

A May graduate of Loyola University New Orleans has pioneered an electrifying new program designed to encourage young girls to build a long-lasting interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

“Girls need a space where they can identify as technologically capable, and they need an opportunity to make mistakes and iterate on those mistakes until they feel confident in their skills,” said Flor Serna '15. “We’re creating confident role models in technology using a badge system. We’re similar to 21st century Girl Scouts — soldering, wiring circuits, using a drill. To earn a badge, a girl must master a new skill and pass it onto a classmate.”

Electric Girls founder and CEO Flor Serna (seen far right), and Electric Girls COO Maya Ramos (seen here second from right), worked with young women this summer at Loyola in a camp designed to encourage long-term interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM).

The program, which rolled out in three summer camp sessions this summer at Loyola, has grabbed the attention of 4.0 Schools. The non-profit national incubator program lauded by CNN, Fast Company, The Huffington Post and Forbes, is now testing the program through Launch, a 3-month incubator program designed to help early stage education entrepreneurs propel promising ideas for the future of school. Electric Girls will roll out as a 12-week Saturday program for girls this fall at St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, La. The program will be open to all, at a cost of $600 per participant. Scholarships are available.

“The hope is to be able to expand to a point where we can provide greater access to girls in the greater New Orleans metropolitan area,” said Serna, who this fall will teach STEAM to grades 4-7 at The Louise S. McGehee School for Girls.

“We give the girls electronic components — LEDs, motors, batteries, wires, switches, buttons — and they can build anything from a simple light-up decoration to a personal fan made from an old DVD player. We also give them a Makey-Makey that they can program using SCRATCH, which is basically a simple programming language made by MIT. In our first camp session, a group of girls built a talking fortune teller using a cardboard box and conductive paint. Another built a mood-texting jukebox out of an old plank of wood and wires.”

Serna, a native of Albuquerque, N.M., arrived at Loyola in 2011 as a college freshman, hoping to become a recording engineer and work in the music industry. A Music Industry Studies major, she began working in one of the university’s two state-of-the-art recording studios, where she did monthly repairs on weekends. Inspired, she added a computer science minor to her repertoire.

Soon, she realized that she had chosen two fields – recording engineering and computer science – in which women are a minority. The audio recording industry is 90 to 95 percent male-dominated, said Serna, who spent four weeks interning in a recording studio before joining Loyola.

“That’s when I became interested in the issue of why aren’t women interested in computer science?” Serna said. “Why aren’t they interested in hardware and software engineering?”

The Music Industry Studies program at Loyola is designed to instill knowledge and critical business skills—such as marketing, management, music law and contracts—that students will need to succeed in business in the music industry. Serna took her studies a step further, and over the course of a year, created a new academic degree that was more focused on technology.

Serna, who graduated in May 2015 with the university’s first-ever degree in Music Industry Technology, devised her own curriculum combining heavy coursework in computer science and audio recording with the work demanded by the department.

“I loved and still love the process of recording other people and capturing that talent,” Serna said. “And I started to read a lot more about the experiences of female recording engineers and producers and the stories that I really empathized with were … the creative process about getting people in a room and creating an amazing process where someone can do one take and make an amazing song. That seemed super cool to me. But I was also interested in the back end – how stuff worked.”

She began exploring online communities of female recording engineers, including a well-known group that goes by the moniker Pink Noises. As she heard the women’s stories, she identified with their experiences, Serna said, citing a Career Day event in which high school visitors assumed her male counterpart was the audio engineer – and that she must be a singer.

“I just want to dispel that stereotype,” Serna said, who aims in her work to break down learning barriers for women and spark achievement.

She asked herself: At what age do young girls lose interest in science and technology and begin to adopt those stereotypes? Her pondering evolved into a thesis, dubbed: “Electric Girls.”

Written research addressed under-representation of women in STEM and challenges that young women face, from a dearth of role models to learning differences and stereotypes. Her thesis also demanded that she create and implement a pilot program, so she wrote out lesson plans designed to catch young girls’ attention, keep their confidence strong and ensure their interest in STEAM subjects stay on track. She tested it this spring at The Louise S. McGehee School for Girls.

This summer she is working to roll that program out, observing young women and how they respond in an all-female STEM environment. Role models, growth mindset, interactive experiences, nurturing environments are all part of the plan.

In the Electric Girls summer camp program, Serna uses audio recording devices to help get young women—working together with other young women—to understand fundamental STEAM skills that will help them as they pursue interests and careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Girls work with sound boards and other electronics, programming frequency and sound.

“I started with audio because audio allows girls to realize that they are in control of the changes that they make, and that’s empowering,” Serna said. “But the program gradually grew to include circuitry, programming, and design, because the four can work so seamlessly together.”

To see the Electric Girls in action and learn more about their IndieGoGo fundraising campaign, click here.

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