As of 2016, women only comprise only 24% of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workforce. In high schools, less than 1% of girls study computer science. One of Riverdale’s latest trips was to the Google “Made with Code” event, which was geared towards changing those statistics by encouraging young women to become more involved in computer science. Made with Code is advertised as an event to inspire young girls to pursue a career path in computer science through listening to the captivating stories of women in the STEM field.
The Made with Code event emphasized the importance of coding in our increasingly modernized world and set up a safe space for girls to discuss gender and technology. As Made with Code explained: “Code is a tool that lets you write your story with technology.” In early September, a group of Riverdale girls along with other schools in the area learned basic coding techniques and received an opportunity to hear from powerful women in the STEM field at the Made with Code event. The first speaker, a Peruvian woman named Cynthia Hellen, told an uplifting narrative of her escape from poverty to her rise as a successful entrepreneur, technologist, and speaker. Junior Maddie Van Beek, who went on the trip, expressed that her favorite part of the event was listening to the extraordinary story of how Hellen, a woman of color, overcame many obstacles to build her career. Mr. Alex Kuntz, an Upper School technology teacher, also noted that it was motivating to hear how Hellen built her career from nothing, with no access to technology. Additionally, when asked about which participants were the most engaged, Maddie responded by stating that the “oldest girls, the seniors and juniors, felt the most motivated by her speech since they are at a time when they are designing their own future.”
Riverdale also had the good fortune of meeting with a female developer at Google, who gave the students insight into working in a primarily male environment in a male-dominated field. Reflecting on the event, Mr. Kuntz thinks the speaker’s knowledge about computer science in the real world was very beneficial to his class. Listening to her helped develop the “classroom community and encouraged students to ask more questions about computer science outside the classroom,” said Mr. Kuntz.
In addition to listening to speakers, students also participated in a small coding activity where they coded animations for the Global Citizen Festival. The animations were revealed behind the singers when they performed. Valerie Edelman, a junior who went on the trip, said it was rewarding to see the final product. Luckily, these coding opportunities exclusively for girls do not just stop at this event. Mr. Kuntz is currently creating a Girls Who Code club in the Riverdale community in order to foster a space for all girls who are interested in learning to code or who have already had prior experience. It is obvious that coding is soon to be a large part of the Riverdale community. Already, twice a month, Riverdale holds a “Day of Code,” in its cafeteria, in which Riverdale students display innovative technology they have created.