Coding sisterhood aims to close gender gap

Children’s Librarian, Veronica McCarthy, facilitates the club and acts as the discussion leader for the first meeting of Girls Who Code. Photos by Laura Drinan

By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and Black Widow are just three examples of amazing women who are also superheroes. Their strength, bravery, and determination inspire young girls, but at they end of the day, these superheroes are just fictional characters. But that doesn’t mean real superheroes don’t exist. In fact, countless women have helped shape the world thanks to their talent, intelligence, and courage, such as Florence Nightingale, Rosa Parks, Queen Elizabeth II, and Serena Williams. These women have made history because of their work in medicine, civil rights, politics, and sports, respectively.

Veronica McCarthy, a children’s librarian at the Needham Free Public Library and leader of the Girls Who Code club, introduced the club members to another real-life superhero: Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan woman who created a free website which crowdsources crisis information, and works for Google as a policy manager for Africa.

The club is not only a place for young girls to learn about other women’s achievements, but is also a spot for the girls to encourage and support each other’s skills and goals.

A small group of girls interested in computer science meets with Children’s Librarian, Veronica McCarthy, at the first session of Girls Who Code.  Photos by Laura Drinan

A small group of girls interested in computer science meets with Children’s Librarian, Veronica McCarthy, at the first session of Girls Who Code. Photos by Laura Drinan

Girls Who Code is an organization founded by Reshma Saujani, which seeks to get women more involved in computing and programming and eliminate the bias towards women in computer science. The sisterhood spreads nationwide and is designed for girls in grades five through 12, but Needham’s club mostly consisted of fifth and sixth graders.

The first meeting on September 7 in the library’s STEAM room welcomed the technologically-inclined girls and their laptops as they all sat together and created accounts on the Girls Who Code website. As they ate snacks provided by the library, Veronica and the young programmers introduced themselves and talked about their club’s contract. The group agreed on perseverance, bravery, curiosity, and kindness to all be qualities they will model throughout the weekly meetings. Most importantly, they agreed to have fun.

 Aspiring computer scientists meet for the first session of Girls Who Code, a coding club held at the Needham Free Public Library.  Photos by Laura Drinan

Aspiring computer scientists meet for the first session of Girls Who Code, a coding club held at the Needham Free Public Library. Photos by Laura Drinan

Each week, the club members will work on activity sets from the Girls Who Code website and learn about more women like Ory Okolloh in the Girls Who Code spotlight. In a few weeks, the girls will start working on an impact project together, during which time they will use their coding skills to create something, like a game or website.

During the session, they brainstormed ideas for their impact project. While one girl who is interested in a career as a programmer suggested they create math and logic games, other girls came up ideas for art games and a choose-your-own-adventure game to inspire an interest in reading. Another girl voiced her desire to make a game as popular as Minecraft and become rich, but worried it might be too frustrating to create. While they have not yet collectively decided on a project, they will continue to brainstorm over the next few sessions until they find one that suits all of their interests. The club will also be welcoming new members and their ideas until early October, or when the space capacity maxes out.

Before letting the girls explore the website’s activity sets until the end of the session, McCarthy sparked a discussion on why having gender diversity in computer science is important. “It shows a girl as a role model,” said one fifth grade participant. “It shows girls can do anything and that they’re unstoppable.”

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