Starting this fall, nearly 50 Girls Who Code clubs will begin meeting in Utah schools, community centers, libraries and company offices to inspire middle- and high-school-age girls to learn computer coding.
Founder Reshma Saujani was in Salt Lake City Thursday to announce the expansion, and she met in the afternoon with about 50 eighth- and ninth-grade girls at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education in Rose Park.
“I spend my life trying to harass girls like you and make you want to code,” Saujani said, imploring the students not to buy into stereotypes that girls are not suited to math, science and computing. “You’re being duped by a culture that tells you this subject is not for you.”
Saujani, who is Indian-American and the daughter of immigrants from Uganda, founded Girls Who Code five years ago after an unsuccessful run for Congress.
Adobe, Dell EMC and Microsoft were among technology companies that joined Saujani and the Utah STEM Action Center earlier in the day at Dell EMC headquarters in Draper to announce the new Utah Girls Who Code Club Network. Nearly 200 middle- and high school-age girls attended the launch.
The goal is “to raise awareness and visibility of technology among young women and help shatter the perception that the tech industry is only for males,” said Janice Peters, Adobe’s program manager for sustainability and social impact.
Industry partners will sponsor and provide mentors for the clubs. The locations where they will meet were not immediately announced.
More information about the program is available on the STEM Action Center website — https://stem.utah.gov/girls-who-code-clubs. It contains a link to the national Girls Who Code website, htttps://girlswhocode.com/clubs. That site will list Utah club locations once they are finalized, said Lynn Purdin, a grants specialist with the state Department of Workforce Services.
While Saujani was stumping for votes in numerous schools during her congressional run, she said, “I saw tons of boys in computer and robotics classes and thought to myself, ‘Where are the girls?’ This question became my obsession. I started this organization to change that.”
In her first year, Saujani organized 20 girls in New York City into a club that spent seven weeks building their coding ability and learning how important those skills will be in the economy of the future.
Now, with the addition of Utah’s clubs, she expects to have 50,000 girls enrolled in programs in all 50 states.
Looking into the diverse crowd of girls in Rose Park, she emphasized that learning coding skills is a “great equalizer” in society.
“When it comes to coding, [students from diverse backgrounds are] all sitting at the same starting line,” Saujani said. “I’ve seen families march into the middle class because they learned to code.”
Her comments made an impression on ninth-graders Sandra Lopez and Betty Gil, who said they’d be interested in joining a club if it’s formed at their school.
“I wasn’t really interested before, but now I am,” said Lopez, who was struck by what Saujani said about girls being unfairly eased into the background. “Mostly boys get more chances than girls.”
Saujani’s message also resonated with the corporate executives at Thursday’s launch.
“We have an incredible opportunity to drive human progress through technology,” said Vance Checketts, vice president and general manager for Dell EMC. “We can’t realize the full potential without our girls.”