116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In mid September, nine young students gathered in the Newbo District for the first meeting of Cedar Rapids’ Girls Who Code club.
The group is designed to tackle the growing gender gap in Computer Science. While 37 percent of computer scientists were female identifying in 1995, today the American Association of University Women says the number has shrunken to 20 percent.
“There are a lot of complicated reasons around this drop off, but one thing we’re trying to address is early exposure, encouragement, community, and support,” said Samantha Dahlby, director of K-12 education at NewBoCo.
“One of the big factors that is a part of this problem is that students who are female-identifying are not encouraged to pursue computer science as often as boys are.”
Dahlby says addressing that gap is a crucial part of NewBoCo’s work to ensure equitable access to computer science education, and it’s why NewBoCo partnered with BAE Systems to start a Girls Who Code club in Cedar Rapids.
“I really enjoy that we can find gaps that exist in our community, region, and state and we can develop or partner to create programs that address those gaps,” Dahlby said.
Girls Who Code is a national not-for-profit working to change the gender gap in computer science.
The organization provides curriculum for volunteers and educational organizations to launch a Girls Who Code club in their community.
So far, 450,000 students have joined a club, including nine students from Cedar Rapids.
Every club meeting follows a similar format. The girls start off with a “sisterhood” activity, designed to help club members get to know each other and build up community.
From there, they read a chapter from a Girls Who Code book, covering anything from the history of computing to influential women in tech.
After this, students tackle a creative coding challenge, such as creating a project about themselves in the Scratch program.
To end the meeting, the students share their successes from the day, celebrate their failures and talk about what they want to do next.
All lessons are facilitated by mentors and leaders from NewBoCo and BAE Systems.
“Early exposure to coding through NewBoCo’s Girls Who Code club empowers girls in STEM and puts them on a technology career path,” said Jade Groen, director of program management at BAE Systems’ Electronic Systems sector.
“The program’s focus on our future female innovators to be problem solvers for themselves and the community is essential to the future of Cedar Rapids.”
While local students have now been working for several months as Girls Who Code club members, Dahlby said it’s only the beginning for NewBoCo’s work with the organization.
“We want to see this expand,” she said. “These clubs can be hosted anywhere.
“We want to be a resource to anyone looking to set up their own chapter, and we want to increase participation in ours.”
To support starting a Girls Who Code club, contact the K-12 Education team at firstname.lastname@example.org.