How One Teen Combines Coding with Girl Power
I never intended to start my own organization, but I saw the need for one like it because of my own experience with learning how to code. After finding Codecademy online in middle school and trying the HTML course, I was hooked. Coding was much easier to learn than I had expected. However, none of my female friends were interested in learning, and I didn't have a role model to look up to. This made it difficult to stay motivated, and I didn’t want other girls to have a similar experience. A year ago, I founded CoderGals, a program where high school female mentors teach elementary school girls how to code.
In afterschool workshops, girls learn that coding is a fun and creative way to solve real problems. The purpose of the program isn’t to make girls become coding pros, but is to get them interested and show them how code can combine with their interests. Code is literally everywhere (you probably look at your phone first thing every morning), which makes it the most accessible aspect of STEM. I don’t think that the gender gap in STEM fields can be closed without exposing young girls to it—and keeping them engaged. Girls lose interest in science and tech by the time they're in middle school; if they're empowered and excited about it before then, hopefully they won’t lose interest at all.
The key part of CoderGals is that older girls become relatable role models for the younger girls. This is so important because there are currently few prominent female STEM role models for young girls. Visibility of women is key to make the field more accessible. The media is a huge part of this problem. Girls look at media outlets every day, but it’s rare to see a story of an accomplished scientist or a highlight of a new invention. When a female character in a show is involved in STEM, it’s usually their defining characteristic. This isn’t a real portrayal because every woman is multidimensional. On the other hand, feminism is increasingly being talked about and accepted. I’m super excited about that, but I want to be able to read about both topics. It’s hard to be what you can’t see, and few popular media outlets read by girls are becoming progressive enough to showcase girls and women of all backgrounds.
An example of this problem is that a few weeks ago during one of my CoderGals workshops, only one girl named a female scientist as the first scientist that came to her mind out of 13 third and fourth grade girls. Every other girl said Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Third grade science clearly needs to step it up, but so does the media.
Of course, finding a role model doesn’t have to be limited by the media. We can create and be the role models that we want to have, and want other girls to have. Girls can look up to girls of any age. "Role model" is a tricky word, because people feel like the title puts a lot of pressure on them. I don’t disagree with that, but whether you like it or not, someone else is following your lead. As an older sister, I am constantly aware that my younger sister is noticing every action I take. Maybe it’s a lot of pressure, but I usually do what I know is right, which happens to be positive.
What I’ve learned is that it’s possible to take action and create change for an issue that you care about. Reading and writing about the issue is important, but you don’t have to wait for someone else to solve a big problem. You are already qualified to have other people look up to you—which isn’t as scary as it seems.
By Rachel Auslander, 16