For early participants of Girls Who Code, the program’s impact is indelible

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By: Chloe Kim, edscoop

Four women who took a summer course in 2014 describe how it grew their interest in STEM and computer science well beyond high school.

For most of Fiona Liang’s high school career, computer science was not on her radar. She’d maybe heard it mentioned a few times, but she didn’t really know what it was, and that was fine.

But all of that changed in a short seven-week period during the summer of 2014, just before Liang entered her senior year of high school.

A Girls Who Code summer immersion program introduced her to the fundamentals of coding and computer science, and, as she puts it, allowed her to “fall in love with technology and engineering” and encouraged her to pursue a career in a field that remains largely male-dominated. It’s estimated that women make up just 24 percent of the STEM workforce and even less when computer science is broken out individually.

Now a junior at Binghamton University in New York, Liang is studying industrial and systems engineering. Like many other alumnae of Girls Who Code programs, she attributes much of what she’s doing today to that summer crash course in computer science.

And it didn’t just teach her coding languages like JavaScript and Python — though it did that, too. Liang learned about “networking, tech entrepreneurship and facing adversity as a woman in tech,” she told EdScoop. “If you asked me four years ago about what I wanted to do in life, I would have never imagined that I would be here.”

Girls Who Code, now six years old, aims to close the gender gap and increase diversity in the computer science field. The nonprofit recently released its 2017 annual report, which found that entry-level computer science jobs could reach gender parity by 2027. This milestone is attributable, at least in part, to the advocacy work of Girls Who Code — led by founder and CEO Reshma Saujani — and other groups like it.

As of 2017, Girls Who Code had served more than 80,000 girls and now offers more than 5,000 programs. Its summer immersion program, a free seven-week classroom experience located on university campuses or at big tech companies nationwide, and its club program, which meets two hours after school in cities across the country, are just two examples of those programs.

Alumnae of Girls Who Code programs who have since started college have opted to pursue a computer science degree 15 times more often than the national average. Among them are Liang and three of her classmates from the summer 2014 program.

The four women’s exposure to computer science in high school has defined each of their career trajectories. In each case, the program was a conduit for confidence, whether it was sticking with material that seemed intimidating at first, or finding the determination to enter a field that didn’t seem welcoming.

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