Friday, May 9, 2014

Feature Friday: Sequoia TracyStone and TechGirlz

Nipmuc sophomore
Sequoia TracyStone
Last Saturday we welcomed five Harvard University students to Nipmuc to introduce some of our female students to computer science. Our visitors are part of Harvard's Women in Computer Science group; through this group they offer schools a program called TechGirlz which teaches coding concepts to females in order to get them excited about this important and expanding area. It was empowering to listen to the instructors as they made complex concepts interesting and accessible. It was also exciting to hear that after only a few years of coding these young women have plans to work at Facebook, intern at Google, travel to Ghana for volunteer work, and start a company - all based on their knowledge of coding. 

This program would not have come to Nipmuc without the support and initiative of sophomore Sequoia TracyStone. Sequoia introduced me to the idea of highlighting computer science for our female students after taking a summer program with a group called "Girls Who Code." With Sequoia's assistance, Nipmuc was introduced to TechGirlz and able to establish this partnership with Harvard University. Sequoia participated in our session last Saturday. I asked her to share some of her thoughts about this experience for this week's feature. 

Q: How did you become interested in computer science? Tell me about your experience with the summer program in CS. 
A: I first became interested in computer science when I attended the Girls Who Code workshop a few years ago. I signed up unsure if I would like it, and I had no experience with coding at all. I ended up really enjoying it. During the summer program, I worked with a very passionate instructor who patiently taught me the basics of coding. Although it was challenging at first, I soon developed an understanding of how to code. By the end of the program I was able to program a robot on my own to perform various tasks such as navigate a maze and find items in another room. 

Q: What were you hoping to achieve in helping to bring TechGirlz to Nipmuc?
A: I hoped to bring awareness to girls in my school system that coding and computer science are fields that are not only accessible to women, but that there is a massive demand for women in these fields. Computer science is currently a vastly male-dominated field, and if TechGirlz helped even a single girl realize an interest in pursuing a career in computer science, I will consider the program a success. Even familiarizing girls with coding and computer science at a young age makes the field less intimidating and more of an opportunity. 

Harvard sophomore Hannah Blumberg teaching
Nipmuc's TechGirlz session
Q: What did I learn from the instructors during the session?
A: During the session the Harvard students taught me not only the basics of coding, but also their experiences as women in computer science. They taught me about how computer science can be applicable to everyday life, as well as the increasing need for women trained in computer science in today's competitive workforce.

Q: What would you say to female students who are considering studying computer science?
A: I would encourage any female students considering computer science to give it a try, especially if they are unfamiliar with it. They will gain experience in a field that is extremely marketable in today's economy. They may find that it is something they enjoy doing, and that it isn't as complex and difficult as it's made out to be. 

I'm thankful for Sequoia's assistance in organizing this program. TechGirlz aligns with the goals of Nipmuc's STEM Scholars initiative. Additionally, we hope to inspire more students to take computer science through our updated program of studies. Next year all sophomores will take some computer science through "Fundamentals of Mathematics". Additionally, we're excited to begin our second year with Advanced Placement Computer Science. With the help of TechGirlz we're excited to increase student interest in computer science and coding!

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