Organization teaches girls the language of coding

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Carina Smith

Reporting Correspondent

csmit367@jccc.edu

A sense of pride and accomplishment washed over Angie Sunderland, Associate Professor of Computer Information Systems, back in 2015 when she got the news that the national Girls Who Code organization would now be offered at the college after she worked so hard to bring it here. Before this, only one other club existed in the entire Kansas City metropolitan area.

Now, all of Sunderland’s hard work has finally been paying off. Girls Who Code started being offered at the college during the 2015-2016 academic year. Girls from grades 6-12 are able to join the club and learn from instructors on how to code using programs like Python and Java, all in the hopes of completing Girls Who Code’s mission of teaching one million girls how to code by 2020 to fill new technology industry jobs opening up in the next few years.

Sunderland has wanted to put together a group like Girls Who Code for years, but she wasn’t sure where to start. When she found out about the nonprofit group, she knew she had to find a way to bring it to the college.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this but the idea of developing all the curriculum myself was just too daunting…,” said Sunderland. “But when this opportunity came up and they provide all the infrastructure and the curriculum, I thought that there was no way I couldn’t do that.”

Sunderland still had a lot to figure out when Girls Who Code came to the college, like finding people who were willing to volunteer two hours every week to teach the girls in the club. Sunderland and Sandra Warner, Director Administrative Computing Services at the college, reached out to Lindsay Brechler, a product manager at the firewall company FireMon. When Brechler was asked if she could be an instructor for the club she jumped at the opportunity and asked her coworkers Abbey Trotta, Ariadne Spes and Taylor Milligan to help out. All of them said yes immediately — they wanted to help inspire girls to get involved in the heavily male-dominated field of technology.

“I feel like it’s important for girls to see role models who are coders and software developers and just get exposure to it to decide if they like it or not,” said Brechler. “I don’t think everyone has to like it, because it’s not for everyone. But you never know if you don’t have any exposure to it.”

Last year, the college’s Girls Who Code club could only hold 15 girls because of their limited supplies, but because of the new collaboration center that the college recently added the club is now able to have up to 44 girls join on for the 2016-2017 school year. Being able to triple the number of girls who can join was a proud accomplishment for Sunderland and Warner, who had a waiting list all of last year.

While the number of girls who were able to attend at the college’s club increased, Girls Who Code has added two more clubs in the Kansas City area with more locations on the way. Expanding on this club has had a huge impact for everyone involved, from the creator who wanted to see more girls involved in technology to the women who help the club at the college. For them, they are sharing their love for technology with the next generation.

“This club and giving girls the chance to be confident in technology, it brings us all together and brings out the community in our name,” Warner said.

The most important thing these women want the girls to take out of the class is the confidence to follow their dreams in any career path. They want to give them the courage to follow their dreams and not be stopped because it’s not seen as being feminine enough. For the instructors, they just want to inspire girls to chase after their passions.

“I would like for these girls to have a vision of themselves in the technology field as something normal right now it really isn’t still,” Spes said. “It’s definitely getting better by leaps and bounds but it’s still not normal and we need them to see that it is.”

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