Before freshmen and returning students flocked to campus for the beginning of the new school year, San Francisco girls in middle school and high school took advantage of the empty real estate to learn about coding and computer programming under USF’s long-running summer workshop, Girl Tech Power.
This year’s program was different from previous summers however — with the help of a $20,000 donation from AT&T, the workshop was able to host twice its usual amount of attendees, free of charge to the young women. The donation comes on the heels of AT&T’s “SF Summer of Giving” campaign which awarded $283,000 to eight community organizations over the span of eight weeks, in an effort to support and spotlight organizations that make San Francisco accessible and vibrant.The donation also helped pay for USF undergraduate teaching assistants, all of whom are pursuing degrees in computer science, to help out during the workshop.
The event, which ran from August 10-14, introduced the young girls to coding with the use of the programming languages Alice, Python and Processing. Ahmana Tarin, a junior at USF and one of the teaching assistants during the workshop, made it clear that the young girls were not expected to have any prior experience with coding.
“For this workshop I aspired to give these girls a comfortable and safe environment where they could explore, fuel their curiosity, and grow their love for tech,” Tarin said. “I wanted them to feel inspired and not intimidated so I didn’t have any expectations, which allowed for more creativity and holistic learning.”
India Buckley-Becknell, a fellow USF junior and teaching assistant for the program, took notice of how well students reacted to a welcoming environment. “Initially they were all really shy, and it seemed like they had some confidence issues with the programs,” Buckley-Becknell said, “But once we told them that the only expectation we had was for them to learn and observe they got more confident. Even during downtime, where they could have done anything else, they decided to work on some programs on their own which was great to see.”
Every year the students are taken on a field trip to a tech company’s campus. Previous visits include Mozilla, Twitter, and YouTube. This year was no different, with the visit taking place at Facebook’s headquarters.“The girls were able to get a glimpse of the work life of a tech employee, specifically a panel of women who were able to share their experience of being a women working in tech,” said Tarin.
The workshop culminated with students presenting their final projects, completed using their new skills, to the class on the final day of the workshop. “It was very rewarding to see it all come together on the last day,” Tarin said.
The workshop hopes to inspire the young women to feel comfortable working in the computer science field, and a study published by the University of Washington confirms the need for affirmation. The authors of the study found that the main reason for the disparity was because of the “inaccurate stereotypes depicting computer scientists and engineers as geeky, brilliant and socially awkward males” as portrayed in the media.
Buckley-Becknell has felt the perceived stereotype and said, “Women are told to remain within their socially constructed box and are labeled with a certain set of qualities that don’t fit in the technical STEM fields, but that’s why this workshop matters; we’re trying to close that gender gap.”
Tarin also feels confident that the workshop is helping tear down the walls of gender exclusivity in the computer science field, and said, “This workshop taught them more than just coding. They were able to hear our experiences and advice regarding challenges and what it’s like to be a woman in tech.” Tarin feels confident that the workshop is helping tear down the walls of gender exclusivity in the computer science field.
“It offered them a safe place to discuss any troubles they may have faced and we were able to give them our best responses. These workshops are what will change the face of tech in the next coming years to a field that is more diverse and approachable to people from all backgrounds and experiences,” she said.