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August 20, 2020

Salvaging summer with technology

When other summer camps were cancelled because of the pandemic, the Technology Association of Louisville Kentucky turned to TechGirlz for an alternative approach. 


“We knew that TechGirlz is a model that works, and our board was committed to delivering STEAM for youth this summer, so we made a rapid shift to online activities,” said Dawn Marie Yankeelov, Executive Director of TALK and President of Aspectx


TechGirlz, part of Creating IT Futures, had curriculum that could be re-organized and adapted for virtual delivery. Creating IT Futures is a workforce charity founded by CompTIA.


TALK, a nonprofit, is one of 60-plus tech councils in North America. Yankeelov said each of TALK’s board members committed to participating and working on curricula that could be offered in one-hour timeslots. 


“The pandemic was not going to stop our STEAM this summer, “ she said.   


download (4)To help TALK reach a more diverse audience, the Louisville Central Community Center —which serves disadvantaged youth within the Black community — also promoted TALK’s summer camps to their members. 


The coursework, since it was virtual, allowed girls from all over the United States to participate, reaching many first- and second-generation immigrants.


The online classes allowed girls to participate in real time via talk and chat online, giving time for questions. 


“The coursework was well-received virtually, and we found that those who attended were very interested in exploring career pathways, so we added information about key careers that fit with the curriculum,” Yankeelov said. “We also were able to update content to make it more relevant and even include information about the pandemic in some courses where useful.”


Delivering a successful summer’s worth of technology enrichment opportunities for teen girls in the greater metro Louisville area was TechGirlz’s aim, as well. For the online summer camps in Louisville, TechGirlz provided curricula on topics ranging from programming to website design to building a mobile app.


The primary goals of TALK are workforce development, STEAM programs for youth, adult tech education, and public policy.


Or as they say on their website: “In short: Create and identify jobs. Train people.” To that end, the employer-led, non-profit tech council has worked to create opportunities for job growth, job training and STEAM curriculum events, throwing in a measure of public policy and subject matter experts to build visibility about IT as a career path.


Summer camps have been instrumental for exposing teens to fun and interactive ways to apply technology, Yankeelov said.


In addition to support from TechGirlz, Yankeelov said TALK had instructors and coaches from the following area companies (in alphabetical order): Aegon Transamerica; Aspectx; Bellarmine University; CloudNexusIT; Frost Brown Todd; Humana; LAL Computers; Marwood Veneer; Spectrum Business; and Verizon Wireless.


“We had many comments from parents, thanking us for the opportunities their girls had to participate in online tech summer camps,” Yankeelov said. “The summer coursework was successful as a delivery mechanism, and so our board members are continuing course offerings into the fall/winter of this pandemic.”


TALK’s summer camps enrolled nearly 200 teenage girls.


Girls love technology…but hesitate to become technologists


Some 95 percent of all teenagers in the United States have access to a smartphone, with 45 percent of them reporting they are online “almost constantly,” according to a 2018 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.


Yet despite familiarity with everyday technology, teen girls are not pursuing careers in information technology.


“Why” is a much-discussed subject among academicians, educators, tech industry leaders, and nonprofit organizations such as TechGirlz. And the “why” is important.


In an article published in the peer-reviewed Frontiers in Psychology, researchers documented that women have made significant gains in most other STEM fields. For example,

  • Women graduate in numbers proportional to men from medical school;
  • Women are over-represented for biology undergraduate degrees; and
  • Women earn undergrad degrees in numbers proportional to men in chemistry and math.


The researchers found, however, that women remain grossly underrepresented when it comes to technology and engineering degrees.


They presented evidence of multiple barriers to entry and retention for women working in information technology — as well as evidence that the culture of IT itself deters women.


Finally, they issued a stern warning about why the phenomenon must be disrupted, saying:

  • IT jobs are high-status, lucrative, and flexible, so women are missing out on beneficial jobs.
  • IT is designing tools that shape modern society; diversifying ensures that tech designs are appropriate for the entire population.
  • The United States is not training enough technologists to keep up with job demand; attracting more women and people of color will help.   


TechGirlz’s efforts in Louisville also received financial support from Verizon Foundation 

To support delivery of the Louisville summer camps, Verizon Foundation contributed $5,000 to TechGirlz.


Verizon Foundation invests in more than 12,000 nonprofits annually that advance education and literacy, health and human services, and community technology development.


It especially seeks partnerships with organizations serving the needs of diverse communities, people with disabilities, and the economically and socially disadvantaged — as TechGirlz and TALK did in Louisville.


“Verizon Foundation understands TechGirlz is engaging teens in technology and fostering enthusiasm about future tech careers,” said Charles Eaton, CEO. “Thanks to generous supporters like Verizon Foundation, TechGirlz can target a demographic we know is underrepresented and strengthen diversity in a field that touches all of us.”


The Verizon Foundation serves the nonprofit community on behalf of Verizon Communications. The foundation’s grants are intended to support projects that promote science, technology, engineering and math-related — STEM —summer and after school programs, teacher training, and research on improving learning in STEM areas through use of technology.   


TechGirlz’s mission is to tackle the gender divide


It is the mission of TechGirlz to inspire middle-school girls to explore the possibilities of technology and to empower their future career choices. As National Outreach Manager for TechGirlz, Alicia Park is responsible for training new volunteers to teach the nonprofit’s free signature technology workshops.


“TechGirlz creates safe and supportive opportunities where girls can explore technology, expand their knowledge about it, and help them become more confident about their mastery of it,” Park said.   


Prior to the pandemic, TechGirlz primarily did this via free, fun, interactive and in-person workshops where young women could work face-to-face with tech mentors, many of whom also are women. Through this structure, some 82 percent of girls who participated in a TechGirlz workshop reported that it changed their minds positively about technology as a potential career path.


Then the pandemic struck, and TechGirlz’s in-person workshops needed to move to an entirely online format.


That transition was made a bit easier because of TechGirlz’s extensive TechShopz in a Box™ library of free workshop plans, documents and guides based on tried-and-true workshops. TechShopz in a Box makes it easy for anyone, anywhere, to run a workshop for middle-school girls.


To browse TechGirlz’s robust library of workshop plans organized by difficulty level, click here.


And to learn more about how TechGirlz transitioned to entirely online programming, listen to this podcast by Technologist Talk, the award-winning podcast produced by Creating IT Futures.