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Girls Who Code (GWC) is on a mission. Recognizing the enormous gender gap in technology, GWC is working to change the image of what a programmer looks like and does—and offers free programs for girls to make those changes. These nation-wide programs range from two-week summer coding courses, seven-week summer immersion courses, after-school clubs, and college loop organizations.
On August 1, I attended the graduation ceremony of this year’s summer immersion program of GWC in San Jose, sponsored by Cadence. This was a class of about twenty students, rising 11th or 12th graders, who spent the last seven weeks learning about computer science, gaining exposure to tech jobs, and joining a sisterhood of girls using computer science to become change-makers.
This year’s graduates with their instructors (bottom right)
Each week of the program covered projects related to computer science, such as art, storytelling, robotics, video games, web sites, and apps. Participants also heard from guest speakers, participated in workshops, connected with female engineers and entrepreneurs, and went on field trips. The program culminated in a final project, in which teams built their own products and shared it with the graduating class and sponsors.
The students impressed me with their poise
Before this program, some of these students had never had CS any experience. But the results were extraordinary, not only in terms of the technical acuity the projects displayed, but also the research and knowledge that the girls showed about each topic. All of them believed strongly in what they are doing, and many were optimistic that they will be able to continue refining and expanding their websites and tools even after the program is over.
After the presentations, the moment came for each student to receive her certificate of completion and a gift from Cadence—and a photo with her instructors.
Tran Le and her instructors awarding her certificate
The ceremony completed, the audience members then milled around the presentation tri-fold posters about each project, testing out the tools and asking questions of their creators. Again, I was impressed with how each student represented herself. It was clear that these young women felt empowered to speak about their specialties.
There is a crisis in the disparity between men and women in STEM careers, there is no question. While part of the solution may be to promote more women into leadership positions in STEM organizations now, there is something to be said for fixing the situation at its source and encouraging more young women into technology through programs like Girls Who Code. If more young women are exposed to STEM careers now, more of them will pursue STEM careers when it comes time to pick a major in college, leading to more women in the STEM pool a few more years down the line.
Cadence is looking to the future to help solve this crisis. And according to the GWC website, these programs are successful; GWC’s alumni are choosing to major in computer science at a rate 15X the national average.
That’s nothing to sneeze at.