Girls Tech Together – Bridging the Gap
The keyboard clacked beneath my fingertips, the brightly lit monitor reflecting my equally bright smile. Within the model-rocket-lined walls of my middle school STEM basement, I felt the exhilaration of writing code for the first time. I was enraptured by the notion that my incessant questioning of the world could be answered by the possibilities that lay beyond my blinking cursor.
In high school, I strove to immerse myself in the field – exploring new programming languages, building machine learning algorithms, participating in national-level events in the Technology Student Association, competing in ethical hacking in Girls Go CyberStart, and dissecting quantum computing algorithms. I subsisted on my discovery of STEM – by surrounding myself with enchanting lines of code and streamlining them to attack problems, I felt fulfilled.
Despite my deep-rooted love for computer science, however, my path into the field had several rough patches.
For a large portion of my life, I suppressed my roots and identity because I never saw my culture reflected in my teachers or schools, causing me to form inaccurate perceptions of the world based on micro-aggressions and offensive remarks.
These micro-aggressions manifested themselves in high school as imposter syndrome. I worried about my self-worth and abilities, especially as a woman in STEM. I never credited myself for my successes. I was not even sure I should study computer science in college, fearing I would do too poorly. During this turbulent time, I came across Timnit Gebru, one of the most prominent advocates of diversity in the field of artificial intelligence. Gebru, who combines her identity as a black woman with her groundbreaking research, motivated me to utilize a sociological perspective on my experiences – in doing so, I realized the ubiquity of the underrepresentation in the STEM field in my community, especially for underserved girls of color.
For many children, their bright, inquisitive minds are transfixed by anything that satisfies their “why” and does not spew the dreaded “because I said so.” However, the problem that I found was that for many girls, the “why” is difficult to find – media, educational material, and even adult figures perpetuate implicit biases in their responses, underestimating what the girl can do with the answer, especially when it is related to the STEM field. Male-dominated culture, gender stereotypes, and lack of female role models create an image that lowers their self-confidence in their abilities. As a result, a large portion of females are systematically tracked away from exploring technology and computer science, resulting in a large and growing gender gap. In my home state of Delaware, the STEM gender gap is widening at one of the most rapid rates in the country, with only around 20% of women in the computer science field (U.S. Census Bureau). I wanted to value each girl’s “why” and give them the tools and confidence to answer the problems they see within their community.
To do this, I began a 501(c)(3) non-profit, Girls Tech Together (GTT), to introduce coding fundamentals to elementary school girls through engaging lessons, interaction with female STEM professionals, and collaborative activities. So far, I have personally worked with over 150 girls over several 10-week programs, expanding the organization globally and partnering with the National Center for Women & Information Technology, the DE Foundation for Science and Math Education, and several other corporate sponsors. I prioritized personal connections (especially during the global pandemic) and developing self-confidence, leadership, and communication skills within each girl. Through the novel curriculum, the students cover debugging, loops, conditionals, sprites, nested loops, digital citizenship/impacts of computing/applications of computer science and functions. Each class begins with an “unplugged” activity – a few examples include “Simon Says,” “Recreate my Drawing,” and “My Loopy Robot Friend.” These are related to actual coding concepts – for instance, “Recreate my Drawing” introduces the idea of a nested loop, which was integrated into the instructions for the drawing. Vocabulary is reviewed and students work on block coding lessons with 1:1 instruction.
Throughout this process, girls are encouraged to ask insightful questions and engage in discussion to cultivate an open, supportive, and respectful environment – this also helps develop soft skills like effective communication and leadership. Students go through digital citizenship, the impacts of computing, and the applications of computer science, and discuss how they can address environmental, racial, educational, medical, and agricultural issues in their community. For their final project, the purpose of their app is aligned with solving an issue they felt passionately about in those discussions. The girls also present their creations to everyone else, effectively educating each other about social issues and possible ways to address them. This highly collaborative class structure has proved to be very successful, with a 76.9% improvement in the girls’ confidence in computer science concepts after GTT (according to pre/post surveys) and many parents reporting that the girls continued exploring coding after the culmination of their projects, even if GTT was their first exposure to computer science.
With each cohort, I also saw a family bloom – the girls helped each other debug their programs and shared messages of encouragement before presenting projects. Girls Tech Together not only made them prepared to live in an inevitable technology-forward future but also empowered them to feel like they belonged there. This, to me, was the most significant impact of GTT, and ultimately the vision I had for the program.
For me, interacting with so many inspiring mentors and students through our global expansion and various events, I personally learned to deal with my imposter syndrome through open conversation with my peers/mentors. More importantly, I realized I wanted to continue being the reason other girls entered and stayed in STEM. I saw my younger self within each and every inquisitive young mind I taught, and I continued Girls Tech Together so that I could keep fueling that spark within girls.
How to Get Involved:
- Girls Tech Together Website
- Girls Tech Together Instagram: @girlstechtogether
- Girls Tech Together Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are an 8th-12th grader looking to get involved in Girls Tech Together, you can apply to be a GTT Mentor, Ambassador, or Event Coordinator here: https://forms.gle/q75S8ruKns498ahU7
Please consider donating to GTT to help fund our efforts here: https://girlstechtogether.org/donate
If you or your organization/company are interested in creating a partnership or being a GTT sponsor, please contact us at: email@example.com