Summer 2020 saw the second iteration of the Girls Electronic Art Retreat (GEAR), a day camp that introduces 3-5th girls to the wonderful world of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. Launched in 2019 as a 5-day hands-on summer camp hosted in the TIMARA studios, the camp gives kids an unparalleled opportunity to explore state-of-the art technology while fostering curiosity and creativity through hands-on activities. Led by TIMARA Technical Director Abby Aresty and taught in collaboration with TIMARA majors, the camp features unique creative projects designed by Aresty and members of the TIMARA-based Crafting Sound Lab to introduce kids in fun and exciting ways to important concepts in music, music technology, and electronics. 

Like many programs, GEAR 2020 was an entirely virtual summer camp due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To limit screen time, we adapted our schedule and spread GEAR 2020 out over the course of a month, with Zoom meetings twice a week. The campers had access to a collaborative web document where they could share and comment on each other’s work throughout the month. Each camper received a GEAR kit, equipped with electronic components, their very own GEAR zine, and all kinds of projects and crafts to complete. To support our 2020 cohort, the GEAR team also developed a special website with instructions for DIY projects, photos and video instructions.

Each week of camp had a different theme and later projects built on skills learned during earlier sessions. In the first week of camp, campers learned how to weed vinyl to create their own vinyl album cover, collected recordings to incorporate into a collaborative supersonic buffet, and helped with some sound design for a short stop-motion video. Each week also featured outdoor activities like a soundwalk and sonic hopscotch. In our second week, campers started to learn about electronics. We made squishy octopus circuits out of conductive play-doh and homemade insulating dough and made light-up paper circuits in the form of deep sea party cards. In weeks three and four, campers built several custom solderless circuits for which we used pre cut copper tape, vinyl, and foam, including a cyborg sonic socktopus, an apple amplifier, contact microphone, and ‘styrophonium,’ and an orange synth with a homemade screen-printed variable resistor. 

Campers’ parents and GEAR teachers alike had really lovely things to say about the GEAR experience. One of our camper’s parents wrote: “[My child] was skeptical about this experience because I didn’t really know how to explain it to her–we focus a lot on the art side of things, because that is what my degree is in. But once she experienced the first week of the camp, she was hooked. She felt *so confident* in herself when she got her circuit/amp together correctly (especially the Octosock one). She was so proud of that project that she took it up to her room with her when she went to bed so she could continue working on the terrarium. She loved all of the projects!” Oli Bentley, TIMARA senior wrote, “GEAR has definitely been a highlight of my time here at Oberlin. This was my second time as an instructor, and definitely my first time teaching people over Zoom. Abby and the rest of the instructors worked tirelessly to provide an exciting learning environment for the campers, all from their own home. It was so rewarding to see the campers discover things and be so motivated to try things on their own. I am really proud of the work all of us, but especially Abby, put into making the camp something special this year.”

“I could not be more proud of our students and the GEAR campers,” said Aresty. “From the research assistants who started building out projects and support materials back in February, to the teachers who hopped on Zoom to help kids build and troubleshoot circuits remotely, to the campers who showed up each session ready to learn and create, the hard work and creativity everyone put into this project helped to provide campers with a one-of-a-kind learning experience even in the midst of a global pandemic. TIMARA students and GEAR campers never cease to amaze and inspire me.”