TechGirlz Inspires Middle School Girls to Be Future Technology Leaders Through Hands-On Experience

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In celebration of Women’s History month and to underscore our love of design, development and technology, Gate 39 Media is proud to highlight TechGirlz – a nonprofit program of Creating IT Futures, a 501(c)3 nonprofit of CompTIA, that inspires middle school girls to explore the possibilities of technology to empower their future careers. TechGirlz is accomplishing its mission through the creation of free, fun, interactive “TechShopz” led by industry professionals, community leaders, and students.  They share free workshop curriculum with companies, organizations, schools and community groups so they can inspire girls around the world with technology. Their vision is to create a world where girls have a lifelong passion and confidence in their use of technology throughout their careers.

We interviewed Sara Neiman, TechGirlz Chicagoland Outreach Coordinator, to learn more about this organization and its mission.

How did the idea of TechGirlz come about?

As the only woman executive at a software development company, TechGirlz founder and now board member, Tracey Welson-Rossman, was well aware of the gender disparity in tech. In discussions with other women in tech and review of research, she realized that a focus needed to be made on girls at the middle school grade levels. These girls needed to not just be taught to code, but they needed to be inspired by all the possibilities that technology could offer them now and in the future. The tech community also needed to be engaged as role models by serving as instructors and mentors. The girls needed to experience, through hands-on learning activities, all of the different aspects of tech, whether it is coding, design, or any of the many other fields that involve technology.

From all of these insights, Tracey worked with a team of volunteer technologists and educators to develop the idea for TechGirlz, a program of interactive, project based workshops that would be made available for free, similar to the way that open-source software is available, to the tech community, companies, individual volunteers, and organizations to run in their communities. TechGirlz not only inspires girls to explore all the possibilities of technology, it provides the workshop plans and support to empower others to do so also.

How have you adjusted to volunteering due to COVID-19?

Previous to the COVID-19 pandemic, our team made efforts to ensure successful remote work as a team. We continue our weekly meeting remotely, but the biggest challenge has been preparing our volunteers, families, and partners for virtual learning. Taking our tech curriculum online was one of the biggest challenges and adjustments. We made a valiant effort to support our volunteers who were used to in-person teaching to feel comfortable online. We first had to ensure our tech workshops were able to be utilized online. Although we have over sixty tech topics that volunteers can choose to teach from, we made sure our online workshops used open-source, web-based programs to alleviate any hardware or downloading issues. Then, we had to create a structure of specific roles and responsibilities within a virtual workshop while incorporating a live TechGirlz team member on all workshops run by our volunteers. This structure has allowed us to have our volunteers focus on teaching and providing an engaging environment for the girls and not have to worry about the logistics of a virtual room on a platform. Our virtual workshops have been a massive hit as we have reached even more girls and volunteers, across the nation, than ever before! Previously we have had to have specific volunteers in the area to host in-person events. Still, now with virtual workshops and programs, our volunteers can provide our programs from anywhere, everywhere with a digital link.

Additionally, we noticed that virtual learning could sometimes lack a community feel and collaboration. Often in an educational setting, students learn better in smaller groups that encourage collaboration, sharing ideas, and increased engagement. Like small group instruction, learning pods are becoming a shared approach during virtual learning to provide an environment that reflects community and teamwork. So, we introduced a new program offering- TechPodz! Within a TechPodz environment, middle school girls will connect with other girls their age while learning various tech topics and other skills. TechPodz provides student-centered instruction and community while keeping your families safe and healthy. Families and girls have expressed their love for our TechPodz, and we are continuing this program in the Spring!

As an extra effort to expand virtual programs, we also started a new program called TechGirlz Talks! This program allows for experts in the field to give 5th through 12th-grade girls exposure to their real-world experience!

Lastly, now that we are digital, we have expanded our Teen Advisory Board into three different geographical areas, consisting of 30 high school girls. TAB is a selected group of teenage girls looking to continue to learn tech while inspiring young girls to explore tech with our programs. We have now been able to reach across the whole country to engage with teens to help them throughout the tech journey through TAB while understanding the importance of giving back to communities.

Can you share one of your favorite TechGirlz success stories?

One story that sticks out in my mind is about a young lady, Lucy Minchoff, who went through our TechGirlz programs as a middle schooler and has continued with us in high school as a Teen Advisory Board member and teen volunteer. Lucy continues to explore tech as a career choice and has decided to major in Environmental Engineering when she selects her college.

Lucy Minchoff, TechGirlz program participant

Minchoff’s story in her words:

One of the reasons I fell in love with TechGirlz was due to the feeling of inspiration and confidence that would track through my body during and after the workshops. Being in a room full of competent women was invigorating. They made me feel indestructible. The reason I volunteer is to give girls that same feeling of strength and ambition that I received when I went to workshops.

I happened upon my local STEM Academy towards the end of eighth grade. I always knew the school existed, as it was a couple blocks away from my dad’s house, but only after I discovered TechGirlz did I put real thought into it. After doing research, I realized that I had missed the application deadline by about six months, but I was not deterred. Techgirlz had given me a newfound sense of ambition, so I emailed the administrators repeatedly until, finally, they allowed me to apply. Finally, in July, I was placed on the bottom of the waitlist. Barely a week before school began, I got an email saying that I was accepted. It was exhilarating.

What advice do you have for young ladies who are thinking of a career in tech?

My advice is to try everything and be open to being creative! As a young girl, I never even heard of technology except for typing and coding. If you are not sure about tech, that is okay. I wish I had programs to help me explore tech as a girl, but those programs did not exist. If you are not sure about heavy tech programs or workshops, start slow with web designing, photography, or app design. These programs do not necessarily require coding, and you can still utilize your creative side to make these projects come to life. Also, get involved in a tech club or program like TechGirlz so you can learn with other girls your age. Sometimes tech can be intimidating but having your peers help and support you can give you the push you need to feel encouraged in a new space.

Learn more about TechGirlz at https://www.techgirlz.org/

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