According to the National Center for Women in Technology’s 2016 analysis, only 26% of professional computing occupations in the United States are held by women. This statistic is shocking in the current age of educational equality, but is on a steady rise thanks to organizations devoted to bringing technology to females across the country. One national program, Girls Who Code, is dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology once and for all.
What’s the best way to do this? Leaders and professionals at Girls Who Code have been trying to answer this question since the program’s founding in 2012. They believe this non-dissmissable gap can be fixed by teaching school-aged girls the wonders and powers of technology. This is precisely how sophomore Emily Simens is spending her summer - as a teaching assistant for the J.P. Morgan Chase Brooklyn chapter of the Girls Who Code program.
The empowering cause of the organization is close to the heart for Simens, a dual major at the School of Information Studies (iSchool) and the Whitman School of Management. After participating in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program when she was in high school, Simens attributes her love of technology to the program’s influence on its participants.
“[This program] inspired me to study technology in college and apply to the iSchool,” she said. “After spending a year at the iSchool and being involved in the It Girls program I knew I wanted to spend my time on something really meaningful this summer. It combines my love for technology with my passion for non-profit organizations and making positive changes in the world.”
As far as summer volunteer programs go, this is meaningful indeed. 93% of Summer Immersion Program participants say they are interested in a computer science major because of the program, a direct success of the Girls Who Code influence. Simens realizes what her time and effort is going to. “I'm really looking forward to being a part of a program that has such a lasting impact on girls. Being able to make a difference in other students' lives really excites me.” As of 2015, Girls Who Code’s programming and clubs had an impact on the lives of over 12,000 girls in four short years. With this record, Emily’s work is sure to make an impact.
Simens’ training for her first-ever teaching experience included an intensive weekend in Atlanta. “We went through some coding projects, learned how to plan lessons, practiced teaching, and participated in a presentation from the Perception Institute,” she recalled. “It was amazing to be able to connect with other like-minded teaching teams who are passionate about technology.”
Through this training, Simens learned that she will be teaching many of the specific skills she has learned throughout her iSchool education. “We are teaching the students how to code in Python. One of the first projects they dive into is creating a photo filter. I feel confident teaching that topic since I took IST 256,” stated Simens. IST 256 is an application programming course required for all iSchool undergraduates. “Another important skill I learned during 256 was how to use GitHub. The students will be using it this summer to collaborate when they work on group projects.”
While this summer will be one to remember for Emily, she also hopes to make it memorable for the students she will be teaching. This experience will definitely affect her plans for her post-iSchool future. She is consistently inspired by the founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani. “[Saujani] has served as a public advocate, given commencement speeches, a TED talk, and so much more. She's an amazing role model, and always answers my emails even though she's probably the busiest person I know!” Simens gushed. “I definitely see myself creating or starting something in the future. Working at a really innovative non-profit organization with so many brilliant people will be an amazing experience,” she anticipated.
Emily Simens' Girls Who Code class in Brooklyn