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May 17, 2017

Chicago’s Got a New STEM Resource: TechGirlz

Girls learn app development and infographics as TechGirlz launches in Chicago

By Michelle Lange

Girls learning about technology at TechGirlz events are usually doing one of two things: frowning seriously into a problem, or bubbling with excitement over their latest breakthrough. TechShopz are a combination of cerebral and silly, and are experiences meant to expand a girl’s budding interest in technology.

“Multiple studies show girls generally lose interest in science and math studies during middle school,” said Tracey Welson-Rossman who founded TechGirlz in Philadelphia. “We hope these programs inspire a love for technology in girls that will sustain them through their lives and careers.”

TechShopz teach a basic tech curriculum and act as a safe space where girls in 6th to 9th grade can ask questions and focus on the technology they’re learning. In May, TechGirlz expanded to Chicago and celebrated with free TechShopz for girls in the area.

Girls who attended Chicago’s first TechShopz learned things like how to design mobile apps and how to turn data into eye-catching graphics.

“The TechShopz this week have been amazing,” said Amy Cliett, the national outreach manager for TechGirlz, wrapping up a week’s stay in The Windy City. “We had some repeat customers and it was great to see the community involvement in the expansion.”

Inside Chicago’s TechShopz
On the Saturday of the infographic session, girls trickled in one and two at a time. They shyly got to know each other, and once the hot chocolate and cheese crackers took hold, these shy tweens got really into using pictures to make a point.

Cliett used the three-hour workshop to teach them practical knowledge, too, like reliable sources to cite (Google Scholar over Wikipedia), how many they’d need to make a powerful argument (6-10), and a process to keep track of the data. “Nothing’s more frustrating than having statistics but forgetting where they came from once you’re putting the graphic together,” Cliett told the group. “Write yourself a quick note and include the source.”

The girls spent a half hour researching their chosen topics — the benefits of dessert, how to feed hamsters, eradicating yellow fever — and another making graphics in the drag-and-drop program. Once the work was over, they wrapped the day making cute presentations of their informational designs.

Upcoming Workshops
At least a few more Chicago TechShopz are planned for this summer, at least two scheduled for July, with details to be hosted on their events page soon.

If Chicago wants to see more free technology workshops for girls on the calendar, TechGirlz needs the tech community to volunteer. “We provide the curriculum and anyone can use it to have a tech shop,” Cliett said. “You just need a space, some girls who are interested and maybe a volunteer or a friend to help you run it.”

The free, open source technology courses can be used by anyone to inspire curiosity in technology and impart confidence in girls. TechShopz courses have been taught by volunteer instructors in 10 states and four countries to more than 5,000 girls.

“We’re here to support and connect the pieces,” Cliett said. “If somebody’s having a tech shop, I can reach out to some parents and say, ‘We have another one coming up.’ It helps build the community.”

TechGirlz even will help volunteers find locations to hold the workshops. Studio Xfinity, Cliett said, hosted Chicago’s first TechShopz at its location on Weed Street. “We have made some great connections with different organizations for space,” said Cliett. “Community centers and libraries are always good, but this is more of a space we like to work in.”

To host a workshop or learn more about TechGirlz in Chicago, contact Cliett at [email protected]. To learn more or how you can get involved, visit the TechGirlz website.

Michelle Lange is a writer and designer living in Chicago.