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South Valley Journal

Girls Who Code clubs launch entrepreneur challenge

Jul 02, 2019 05:18PM ● By Jet Burnham

Winners of the Girls Who Code Entrepreneurial Challenge. (Maria Corona Photography)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

In Utah, only 12 percent of employees in computer science careers are women.

“Utah has to address this gender gap,” said Katherine Kireiev of the Utah STEM Action Center. “Tomorrow's economy depends on the choices students make today. It's critical that we break down the gender stereotypes in STEM by examining our micro-messaging in the home, in the classroom, and as a society.”

Exposing girls to coding at an early age is key to combating negative messages girls receive and to increase the likelihood they will pursue technical fields of study, said Kireiev. The STEM Action Center supports Girls Who Code, a free afterschool coding club, as a way to open up a future of possibilities for girls. The clubs are popping up in local elementary and secondary schools all over the country.

At North Star Academy in Bluffdale, girls ranging in age from fifth to ninth grade, participated in weekly coding and problem-solving activities to help them gain confidence in computer science skills.

“I worked hard to make sure that the girls in my club got the most of their experience,” said club facilitator Kelli Olsen. “I ran the club more like a tech business than a classroom.”

Olsen exposed the girls to women working in tech jobs, with guest presenters and field trips and a Q&A with “Women of Workfront” who work in the tech field.

Olsen watched the girls flourish in confidence and skills from their experience in the club.

“I let the girls have a voice and made sure to build them up and celebrate their accomplishments,” said Olsen. “This group started out as a very shy and quiet bunch and little by little they started coming out of their shells. It was fun to see them grow and build confidence in themselves.”

Reshma Saujani founded Girls Who Code in 2012, believing all girls have the interest and ability to learn to code—they just need to be nurtured with values such as leadership, sisterhood, quality, candor and bravery.

“Our economy, our society, we are just losing out because we are not raising our girls to be brave,” said Emily Ong, Senior Manager of Girls Who Code Community Partnerships and Outreach.

Girls Who Code encourages participants to apply their coding skills to address real-world problems. Many clubs entered their projects into the inaugural Girls Who Code Entrepreneurial Challenge this spring. The competition’s purpose was to inspire girls’ pursuit of leadership roles and entrepreneurship and to encourage greater female representation in STEM fields.

Top winners included North Davis Junior High for their “Thunkable” app that provides detailed information about school clubs to students, Juab High School for their “Beauty Run” video game that encourages self-esteem and confidence by rewarding brave reactions to common scenarios young girls face, Elk Ridge Middle School’s Virtual 3D Tour which allows new students a sneak peak of the school to see how to find their classrooms and to see who their teachers are, and Park City High School’s app to eliminate food waste by connecting local restaurants with food banks to easily coordinate donating leftover food at the end of the night.

Olsen’s work with her club earned her one of three Facilitator Awards and a $500 prize. The money will be used to purchase tech toys called Ozobots for next year’s club members to program.

For information on how to start a Girls Who Code club, visit girlswhocode.org.