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Techsters: Inspiring Girls to Code

About half of all of the people in the world are women. Women, however, are grossly underrepresented when it comes to our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) workforce. That starts in our education system. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, while girls at the K-12 level take STEM classes at about the same rate as boys, when they get to college, their interest drops exponentially. 18.2% receive degrees in computer sciences, 18.4% in engineering, and so on. Less than 8% of women go on to achieve a master’s in science and engineering.

STEM education is a tremendous part of our mission at RichTech, Richmond's Technology Council, and we are particularly interested in STEM education for our young women. That inspired us to create Techsters, a program that not only introduces young women to STEM, but instills in them a passion to continue along that path.  For the past few years, we’ve organized Techsters as a day camp for middle school girls.  They are presented with a technology problem, and given the tools to solve it.

This year we partnered with Capital One, who also hosted the event. Members of the Capital One IT team served as mentors, and 150 middle school girls were given a Raspberry Pi, a small, single board computer. They learned how the technology worked, and used the programming language Scratch to code their own computers.

Watch this Science Matters video and hear from several students and mentors about how this type of experience can make a difference.

We recently caught up with another one of the participants, Meena. She’s a 6th grader at Albert Hill Middle School, and is looking forward to the 7th grade. We asked her if she was excited about Techsters beforehand.  She said, “Not really. My brother is the technology person in my house. A bunch of my friends were going, so I thought, why not?” Meena’s passions are art and writing.  She has a wonderful blog of her own poetry, and coding was far from her mind.  But participating in Techsters changed her mind.

“Here’s this colorful little gadget, and I’m going to teach it things. It was like learning a new language, like Spanish or French.”

She was intrigued by how the components talked to each other, and how they interacted with other computers and servers. She liked the precision of composing her own code.

“Each letter and comma has to be just so. There are so many parts and elements, but it’s not just words and lines of code. It’s kind of a life lesson. When you’re able to put them all together, they create something unique.”

When she got home, she immediately hacked her Raspberry Pi. One of the mentors told her about Python, and she was anxious to see what that code looked like. She also went online at Code Academy to see what else she might do with her gadget.

She still has a great passion for art and writing, but when we asked her what she might like to do when she grows up, she said, “Maybe be a hacker for the government.” This surprised us. “Hacker” can be a dirty word in the technology world.

“I think that word gets a bad rap. If you want to understand something, you have to break it and take it apart and rebuild it. That’s been the really good and fun part of learning to code: seeing the inner workings and learning how to make things happen.”

Another successful convert.

Need More Information?

Click here for a PDF of Capital One’s Exploration Guide developed for the Techster’s event.

Would you like to be a mentor or get your company involved? Please contact Robby Demeria.

Click here to add your daughter to the mailing list for the next Techster's event.

More information on Capital One’s Investing for Good programs

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Article by: Robby Demeria, Executive Director of RichTech and member of the Science Matters' Leadership Team