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Workshops Use Sci-Fi, Fan Fiction to Teach Girls STEM and Writing Skills

 The Octavia Project, an organization dedicated to empowering girls through science fiction, will host free summer workshops using sci-fi and fantasy to teach girls STEM skills.
The Octavia Project, an organization dedicated to empowering girls through science fiction, will host free summer workshops using sci-fi and fantasy to teach girls STEM skills.
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Young gamers and fan-fiction aficionados can expand their fantasy worlds this summer with a new series of workshops that use sci-fi to teach STEM skills.

The Octavia Project, an organization dedicated to empowering girls through science fiction, is hosting free classes in Brooklyn to help teens develop their talents in technology, art, writing and math.

“Sci-fi helps teens imagine greater possibilities for their lives and communities,” said Chana Porter, the group’s co-founder. “It’s really a springboard to help you dream whatever life you choose.”

Porter, a sci-fi author and playwright, started the project in 2014 with co-founder and robotics teacher Meghan McNamara. The workshops will be held in partnership with Seven Stories Press, an independent publisher known "for publishing voices of social conscience and of the imagination," according to its site.

The four-to-six week classes will blend subjects and encourage participants to express their creativity.

While a final curriculum is not set, girls will work with college-aged mentors, women in science and tech, and have access to internship and online publishing opportunities.

One class may delve into a student’s story set 2,000 years in the future, while the next will have an architect help teens build physical models of their imagined cities. Further workshops may allow students to take their stories and turn them into video games through coding lessons, McNamara added.

“It’s also really important when we’re envisioning these alternative futures and thinking of new ways of living for ourselves that we see ourselves in it,” McNamara said.

“A lot of the series that are popular today, like ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Divergent,’ feature white characters," she said. "We think it’s really important to expose girls to visions of the future that have girls that look like them in leading roles doing the changing.”

The project’s namesake, author Octavia E. Butler, inspired the founders to use science fiction as a way to talk about broader issues in social activism, gender, class and race.

“She looked at society through a real critical lens and didn’t sugarcoat anything,” McNamara said. “It blew me away because I never saw how sci-fi could be used to make me think of history and my own role.”

The workshops will take girls’ interest in fan-fiction, comics, video games, fantasy and science fiction as a starting place to delve into technology and STEM.

The group also looks to create a safe, tangible space for teens to connect over their hobbies and provide a support system to navigate their interests.

“We want to impress on these girls that, while we don’t know what the job market will be like and lots of traditional career paths are disappearing, you can create your own lifestyle, create your own job,” Porter said. “And that starts with the power to dream, imagining and pioneering.”  

The Octavia Project is currently seeking a Brooklyn space to host the workshops and is raising money through Indiegogo for guest speakers, teachers and art and technology supplies.

Classes are open to girls ages 13 through 18. To register or learn more, visit the Octavia Project website or email info@octaviaproject.org.