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Girl code: University programs promote women and girls in STEM

Girl Code

Along with her friend Sophie Houser, left, Annie Gonzales, right, co-authored “Girl Code,” a young adult non-fiction book detailing her and Houser’s journeys into computer science, GWC, and becoming viral game developers. Photo courtesy of Gonzales.

Despite research showing increased diversity of work teams yields better performance in the technology sector, the industry is still plagued by a lack of female presence. 

Women held only 25 percent of computing jobs in 2015 even though women hold 57 percent of all professional occupations, according to a 2016 study by the National Institute of Women and Technology. 

When tech companies do hire women, they struggle to retain them. After about 12 years, approximately 50 percent of women in science, technology, engineering and math fields had left their jobs, according to the study. 

The Duke Technology Scholars Program is a mentorship and career development program that aims to foster successful careers for female tech and STEM students and to encourage women to stay in technology. 

"What we discovered is by creating a cooperative, supportive environment for women with other likeminded people, that that is very empowering and has helped because there is such a sense of isolation when you’re a minority in a field,” DTech program director Monica Jenkins said.

DTech pairs women in various tech majors with mentors and a paid internship. Scholars completing the summer internship live together to share their experiences. 

“When you’re the only woman working on your engineering team, it’s nice to have a community of people that you feel like you can connect with that have similar goals and visions and dreams," Jenkins said.

Girls Who Code is a national organization of computer science students who teach middle and high school girls Python coding and web development skills. UNC’s chapter is one of the only public GWC clubs in a 25 mile radius and currently has over 40 participants.  

UNC junior Helen Qin, a computer science and math double major, has tutored with GWC since UNC's chapter formed in fall 2016.

Qin came into UNC with no programming experience but fell in love with computer science after taking her first programming class. She said working with the girls has helped her realize that girls are going to be great computer scientists.

“Working with the girls ranging from sixth grade in elementary school to senior in high school ready to apply for UNC, I feel that my work is so important and rewarding because I get to show the girls how fun computer science is and share with them experience and advice working in the field,” she said.

Annie Gonzales, a sophomore computer science and journalism double major at UNC and a member of The Daily Tar Heel's audio desk, participated in GWC as a high schooler.  

“Guest speakers would come into our classroom and talk about their experiences in tech and we’d take classes on different development areas every week — mobile, web, etcetera — and then have a final project to present at the end of the program,” Gonzales said through online correspondence. 

Gonzales' final project was a game called Tampon Run, designed to combat stigmas surrounding menstruation. In 2014, the game went viral. 

“GWC is such a special, supportive and empowering community," she said. "There, I did a lot to define myself as a woman and a woman in tech; without GWC, I would not have made Tampon Run, and I would not be where I am today.”

Gonzales said although she has struggled to make space for herself and feel confidence in coding, more women are getting involved in tech. 

“The problem isn’t solved yet,"  she said. "But more and more people are working towards it, and it’s very inspiring."


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