Putting Myself In Her Shoes
Through all of high school and my first few months of college, I did competitive speech and debate, an activity that I poured my heart and soul into because I love the idea of being an activist for problems that I am passionate about. In my final few months as a speech and debate competitor, my first few months of college, I prepared a speech about closing the gender gap in tech, which now takes the form of my first women in tech piece here. The most astonishing statistic to me was the moment of awareness while growing up when you realize some things are meant for boys and some things are meant for girls.
I decided to see if there wasn’t something I could do to make this statistic go away. Last fall, I became involved with a local coding club for 4th-9th grade girls operating out of a co-working space less than a mile away from campus. Being only a year into a computer science degree myself, I knew I was in for an experience where I’d be learning along with the girls.
I did learn new coding concepts with the girls. However, I think the more profound thing I learned was what it’s like to interact with groups of young girls and get a peek of what’s going on inside their heads as they’re learning more about who they are and who they might want to be. When volunteering, being that age hardly feels like moments ago, and I am strongly reminded of who I was then. I began to reflect on what my main goals were at the time. Certainly, none of them fell along the lines of wanting to be a stellar software engineer who writes perfect code on the first go. They fell more along the lines of this:
- Be accepted by others and find a place to belong
- Have fun
- Change the world and, if I’m lucky, become famous
Once I rewound back to that time, I realized that that’s the point of Girls Who Code: to find a place to belong, to have fun, and find a way to change the world and chase after it.
From that point on, the volunteers, instructors, I took it upon ourselves to make that the focus of the club. On the first day, we played a game called Connection, which is simple: one person stands in the middle and states a fact about themselves, and anyone who has that fact in common yells “Connection!” and runs in for a high-five. The first person to high-five the person in the middle is now the lucky person to share a fact about themselves. This game is important because it allowed the girls to find things they had in common with others and feel more comfortable in their surroundings. They found out they all had a mutual love for cats, Zelda, and reading books.
Once they built common ground, they got to work in groups to play games, learn new concepts, build cool projects, and get insight into ways that they can change the world using STEM. From something as simple as animating a cat on a canvas and writing code that makes Christmas lights light up, they used their imagination to build cool things and have fun.
What else could you want in middle school? As students and adults teaching this club, it’s all too easy to focus clubs on learning hard and fast concepts that are directly applicable in the industry or in class. This is a flawed approach because by the time these girls make it to the industry, everything will have changed. The languages that are cool now will be like how Assembly is to us, new problems will arise that will demand to be solved with the tools of 20 years from now. The idea is that the girls should have fun, build an interest, and build community and trust in one another. That way, we can help stop whatever happens that make girls opt out of STEM majors, or make it through and don’t stay to the end.
This spring, much of the former leadership of my girls who code club are stepping down and taking less active positions. As a rising teacher and curriculum developer for this spring’s club, clearly defining our goals and establishing how to make a lasting impact have been at the forefront of my mind. Digging into the past to build a better future has been an invigorating experience, and it has been a unique but effective supplement to my classwork and progress towards becoming a software engineer. Thinking about how to teach someone much younger than me forces to rethink the way I communicate and my approach to solving problems. In a way, it turns everything upside down.
I am nervous but ready for the upcoming challenge of developing and teaching the next session of the club. It will be a new experience, but I’m sure that I will learn a lot along the way. But most importantly, I plan to approach this experience knowing that I’m not any different than the girls I’m teaching. Once upon a time, I was a girl who wanted nothing more than to change the world. Now I have the opportunity to do it, and pay the experience forward.