Building Confidence by Building Computers
- Despite advances made during the past 50 years, women continue to be underrepresented in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).
- Women hold only 27 percent of all computer science jobs and less than 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women, even though female graduates hold 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
- Organizations like RichTech in Richmond, VA are finding ways to instill a love of STEM skills in young girls as a way to ensure the continued growth of a dynamic technology-based economy.
- To get young girls excited about and confident in their computer skills, RichTech and Capital One sponsored an event that brought computers and coding to life for 150 girls by having them construct single-board computers using simple instructions and guidance from volunteers.
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Encouraging Middle School Girls to Embrace Technology
The girls huddled together, carefully studying the circuit board. “I think it goes this way,” said one girl thoughtfully, as they all consulted the user guide spread in front of them. “Then, I think we need to plug the SD memory card into the bottom slot.”
Similar conversations were happening in small groups across the room as 150 middle school girls worked excitedly and with intensity to build Raspberry Pis – small, inexpensive computers – and then to learn to code using those computers.
Closing the Gap for Women in Technology Fields
Research continues to show that despite great strides in education and the workforce, women are underrepresented in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). According to a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold only 27 percent of all computer science jobs. Less than 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women, even though female graduates hold 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees.
As technology continues to drive consumer needs and business goals, strong STEM education has become essential to ensure that enough workers with the right skills are available to fill available jobs in these fields. According to projections from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80% of the fastest growing jobs, including many of the best paying jobs, require strong skills in math and science.
In the Richmond, VA, area, RichTech, Richmond’s Technology Council, and its Women in Technology Forum have created Techsters, a program designed to inspire middle school girls to pursue their interests in STEM subjects.
“RichTech works with Richmond businesses and organizations to support the growth of central Virginia’s technology-based economy,” said RichTech Executive Director Robby Demeria. “Part of this effort is inspiring and supporting young women to pursue skills in STEM fields during their middle school years, a time we know many lose interest in math and science.”
“And, given that Capital One is one of the Richmond area’s largest employers and has a focus on hiring associates with STEM skills, it was an incredible opportunity to work with them to help our young girls start early to develop a love of learning, especially a love of learning about STEM topics,” said Demeria.
Computers and Confidence
As a way to show young girls that computers are cool and coding can be fun, RichTech and Capital One partnered to sponsor an event that brought lessons in circuitry, electricity, hardware and software to life for 150 girls. Associates from Capital One’s IT group served as volunteers and led conversations about computing, coding and how those things can be fun and lead to exciting careers.
By constructing single-board computers known as Raspberry Pis through Scratch, a kid-oriented software program developed by MIT University, the girls gained confidence in their technical and programming abilities. They also got to speak with other girls who have a similar interest in math and science, and to explore using their skills in a different way.
“I liked how we got to sit with people from other schools, and I made a lot of new friends. I learned a lot about computer programming and technology,” said Alexa Macaulay, who is in 5th grade.
Another participant’s mother expressed her and the girls’ excitement about the program. “I picked up a carload of middle school girls who are psyched to become programmers. One girl told me, ‘I totally want to become a computer programmer and a hacker and go work for the government.’ This is exactly the reaction I was hoping to see out of them!”
This is an amazing way to get kids involved in programming and coding, especially using things like the Raspberry Pi. — Madison Vicars, 6th grade
Ensuring the Growth of Women in Technology Fields
Formed in 1989, RichTech became one of nine technology councils in 1996 and since then, has been a leader in promoting the growth of new and existing and technology industries in the Greater Richmond area.
Recognizing that STEM education is essential to ensure the readiness of today’s and tomorrow’s workforce, Capital One has partnered with the RichTech to support the continued growth of central Virginia’s dynamic technology-based economy and has provided funding to RichTech in addition to serving on its board of directors.
“At Capital One, we’re excited about this digital age in which we live and we’re hiring hundreds of computer programmers and technology professionals to deliver the best possible products for our customers – who we know want to interact with our bank anytime and anywhere,” said Julie Elberfeld, MVP – Commercial Banking Technology and keynote speaker for the event.
She advised the students to be curious, find mentors, and participate in opportunities like the Techsters event. “There’s a shortage of education for young people in technology, so that’s why we’re happy to partner with RichTech’s Women in Technology to deliver this event as well as investing in providing programming training for kids in our communities.”
“This is an amazing way to get kids involved in programming and coding, especially using things like the Raspberry Pi,” said Madison Vicars, a 6th grader who built her own computer during the event.