On February 11, the world will celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Formally declared in 2015 by the United Nations, the day is meant to encourage “full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls, and further achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.” Across the Pacific Northwest, there are several organizations that work to inspire girls to pursue STEM education and career paths. These nonprofits create ripples that will grow over a lifetime by helping unleash the creative and analytical power of youth. This is an investment in the future of technology, science, and research that will bear fruit in years to come.
One such organization is Code Girls United.
Founded in 2016 in Kalispell, MT by three women who had a vision to engage young girls in computer science, coding, and business, Code Girls United is a weekly after-school program for girls in 4th through 8th grade. Initially, students learn the basics of computer science and coding, then apply their learning in the second half of the year through working on teams to identify a community need and develop an app as a solution. In addition to technical skills in coding, marketing, and business development, the girls develop self-confidence, teamwork, and public speaking skills. At the end of the year, all participants compete in the Code Girls United NW Regional App Challenge as a culmination and celebration of their new skills and hard work.
The apps these girls develop demonstrate innovation and problem-solving skills that will undoubtedly serve them well in life and are already serving those around them. For example, one team called the Kiwi Coders noticed that going to a new school could cause fear, loneliness, and even bullying. So, they developed an app. The Sit With Us app, created by Josephine (11) and Juliet (10), matches new people in a cafeteria or similar setting with a group of people ready to welcome them. Through asking the user a series of questions, then matching their answers with a group who responded similarly, the new students not only have a seat for lunch, but also new friends with shared interests. The Kiwi Coders made the Junior Semi-Finals of the 2021 International Technovation Challenge, competing against over 1,000 teams.
Stories like this speak to the power of Code Girls United model, but so do statistics. According to their website, 58% of participants pursue further Computer Science or technical education. This number is significant in a field where only 18% of jobs were held by women in 2015, and in a state where few schools in rural or tribal communities offer computer science programs. When Code Girls United was founded in 2016, not one female took the AP Computer Science exam in Montana. In 2019, 14 did.
The Murdock Trust is honored to have supported Code Girls United with a capacity-building grant in 2021 to multiply their programs across Montana and in tribal communities under the leadership of a new executive director.
The ripples of Code Girls United are already growing in Montana, and undoubtedly will continue to grow throughout the lives of these young girls and their communities. To Code Girls United and all the other incredible nonprofits investing in the future of women in STEM, thank you!