Girls Who Code Club Completes Curriculum

Helen Johnson

This April, 23 area middle and high school girls celebrated the completion of their curriculum in computer science for the future. These young women began their journey with the Girls Who Code (GWC) club six months ago, the second group to go through the program.

Girls Who Code was founded by Reshma Saujani in 2012 when she noticed the lack of participation of girls in computer science classrooms in New York state. In a TED Talk, Saujani talks about her commitment to social change that encourages girls to take risks and to learn computer program code.

FSU Panama City’s interim STEM director, John Smith, Ph.D., B.C.E., created a chapter in 2015. He wanted to create opportunities for young women to explore and determine if computer science was a field of study they would like to pursue.

“This is the first experience for many of them to learn about the basics of coding, how it is used and future job opportunities,” Smith said. “The club provides an opportunity for the university to close the gender gap in technology...the primary mission of GWC.”

FSU Panama City is committed to promoting STEM excellence, from piquing the curiosity of a student in the primary grades to linking university students to high school students who are considering a career in STEM.

According to the Girls Who Code website, interest in computer-related programs in girls between the ages of 6- to 12- years-old and those entering college as freshmen drops from 66 percent to 4 percent. Of the 1.4 million jobs expected in computer-related fields in the year 2020, only 29 percent are expected to be filled by women in the U.S.

“Many girls drift away from STEM fields by the time they reach college simply because they do not have adequate experiences. Keeping them involved while still young helps maintain and broaden their interests,” Smith said.

Smith began the local chapter two years ago assisted by current students from both FSU Panama City and Gulf Coast State College as instructors. Girls in grades sixth and seventh were instructed by Hayden DeForge, a student in the electrical engineering program at FSU Panama City and Amy Brown, a student in the Gulf Coast State College information technology management program. They were assisted by FSU Panama City electrical engineering student, Tasneem Salman.

“It was an amazing experience teaching for GWC,” DeForge said. “One girl who impacted me specifically was Rameen. She was the youngest girl in the program but always carried herself like a young leader. Rameen was enthusiastic about coding from the second she stepped foot in our class and she made it easy for me to enjoy teaching.”

“In my computer science classes, it is not uncommon to be greatly outnumbered by the guys. The idea of a program that is meant to encourage girls to get interested in technology was really appealing. It really just sounded like a lot of fun,” Brown said. “I'm passionate about programming and hoped to share that enthusiasm.”

Girls in eighth through 12th grade were instructed by FSU Panama City students Elizabeth Sponseller and Matthew Spradley, studying law enforcement intelligence and computer science respectively.

“There were times that the girls would be able to knock out their assignments before we were able to assign the next project, it was incredible seeing how both talented and passionate they were in code,” Sponseller said. “It was interesting seeing their fascination in computer science grow as they continued through the course.”

Participants were introduced to computer programming, different technologies that utilize programming code and heard talks from community partners. Among the speakers was former FSU student and charter GWC instructor, Emily Hennessy. After graduating with a B.S. in computer science in 2016, she now works for NantHealth in Panama City. Students heard about manufacturing systems from community partner Berg Steel Pipe’s project manager, Christa Colvin. They also heard talks on computer science and robotics from Gulf Coast State College instructors Karen Works and Jose Lopez-Baquero.

“Participation in GWC builds confidence in their creative abilities by opening the doors to new educational and job horizons,” Smith said. “I noticed how well the girls work together and appear to be more comfortable and less distracted in an all-girl environment.”

For more information about next year’s Girls Who Code club, contact Ginger Littleton with the FSU Panama City STEM Institute at (850) 770-2152.