For two weeks in July over the past four years, Buffalo State College’s Technology Building has transformed into a training ground for future female computer scientists during the WNY STEM Hub’s Girls Coding Project.
The goal is to encourage more young women, especially from marginalized populations, to pursue computer science education and to become part of Western New York’s growing technology workforce, according to WNY STEM Hub’s executive director Simone Ragland.
Although the event can’t be held in person this year because of the ongoing pandemic, the Girls Coding Project will continue in an online format. Girls entering seventh through 12th grade this fall will still have the opportunity to learn coding skills, enhance their digital literacy skills, navigate virtual platforms, and explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Professionals in the field, including James Gerland and Charles Arbutina, both lecturers in Buffalo State’s Computer Information Systems (CIS) Department, will teach courses such as Web Design, Java, and AppLab over Zoom in five half-day sessions during the weeks of July 13 and July 20.
“I’ve been teaching online courses for years, so this won’t be a big change,” said Gerland, who is teaching Advanced Web Design. “We’ll be working in Zoom breakout rooms, which serve as classrooms. What will be different, of course, is that we can’t walk around and view their projects or have the demonstrations for parents at the end.”
The 34 participants this year hail from throughout Western New York and Syracuse. In addition, because of partnerships with the STEM Hub in Ghana, four girls living in Ghana are also participating.
“We had to make some modifications in order to give the girls as close to a personal experience as possible,” said Bobbi DelBello, director of programs for WNY STEM Hub. “The benefit of providing the program virtually has been the ability to partner with Ghana and Syracuse. This will give all the girls participating the opportunity to learn from one another in a more expanded way that we couldn’t provide with local participants.
“We are very excited to see how the experience develops,” she added. “We are also grateful for Jim and Chuck and their willingness to try something new with the program.”
It’s estimated that by the year 2020, only 3 percent of the 1.4 million computer science jobs in the United States will be held by women, and the Girls Coding Project wants to change that trajectory, Ragland said.
“One of the primary objectives of the Girls Coding Project is to remove traditional barriers such as enrollment cost, transportation, and access to a computer or tablet in the home by offering scholarships and transportation assistance, and providing refurbished laptops to program participants,” Ragland said, adding that this year, her board of directors approved the purchase of Chromebooks to lend to participants with the potential to keep them at the closing of the program.
About the Girls Coding Project
The Girls Coding Project began in 2016 with It’s Your World! Develop It! Powered by AT&T to introduce girls to computer coding, which continued into the fall of 2016 and winter of 2017. The project returned in summer 2017 when the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County and GM Tonawanda Engine joined the partnership. In 2018, the project expanded to offer advanced-level computer science training for girls who have mastered computer coding basics.