back to news March 27, 2019

Outreach program brings middle school girls to ACCAD

Maria Palazzi remembers teaching a class that had no women in it.

“It was striking to me,” she recalled, “that this thing I love so much — computer animation — that there were no women interested in it. It changed the dynamics in the classroom to not have some kind of gender balance.”

Palazzi, a professor in the Department of Design and former director of the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD) set out to change that. She founded — and is director of — "Digital Animation: A Technology Mentoring Program for Young Women," a free summer program hosted by ACCAD for middle school girls. The program began in 1999 and has — with the exception of the following year — run every summer since. In 2019, the program will be partially funded by the Livable Futures Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme.

The program guides seventh- and eighth-grade girls through two weeks of collaborative, project-based, storytelling activities that revolve around a central theme. Last year, the students studied the lives of bees, visited the Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware and learned from entomologists how bee communities worked.

When the students return, they learn from ACCAD faculty and students how to storyboard, animate, record their voices and build 3D models. The students render everything together into short films that they screen at the end of the program.

“It’s very collaborative, it’s very creative and it combines both art and science together,” Palazzi said. “I wanted to make that real to young women so they could start to think about that early on.”

The impact the program has on its students is profound, and Palazzi has directed it long enough to see girls who come through it return to Ohio State as undergraduate and graduate students. Some of those students have even served as mentors to the middle schoolers during the program. The girls also have opportunities to video chat with former program participants who went on to graduate from Ohio State and are now working in the film industry.

Having everything come full circle is part what makes the entire experience valuable for everybody involved, Palazzi says.

“There’s that chain of connection, and that’s been really powerful for them to actually see someone doing the thing that they think they would like to do,” she said.

ACCAD’s outreach program, Palazzi says, is indicative of Ohio State’s mission to promote and steward community engagement.

“It feels very right to be doing this kind of community engagement,” Palazzi said. “To be making available these kinds of experiences for young women seems really important.”

Those interested in supporting the Digital Animation: A Technology Mentoring Program for Young Women can do so via the Women in Technology Mentoring Fund.