Started in 2016, uCodeGirl, a local non-profit founded to address the shortage of women in technology, has already made a profound impact on students who attend its after school classes and summer technology camps in the Fargo-Moorhead and surrounding communities.
“Our vision is to inspire and support girls to become the future face of innovation and computing. To encourage girls to think differently, into the various ways Computer Science solves complex real-world problems so they can chart their own pathways to the T of STEM careers. We tell the young women we serve to come as they are because we believe they already have a natural curiosity, focus, and intellect to succeed in STEM fields.” said Gronneberg, the founder of uCodeGirl.
Explaining why she founded the organization, Gronneberg stated, “We exist to remove roadblocks for girls that separates them from pursuing rewarding technology careers. Roadblocks such as peer pressure, self-limiting beliefs, and lack of opportunities, mentors and role models. We do this by giving them sustainable opportunities from elementary to middle school to high school to micro experiment with computing/coding, entrepreneurial activities and confidence-building practices.” Researchers call it the middle school cliff where girls show interest early on but due to the points Gronneberg outlined, they self-select out of programs in school that are STEM centered.
The middle school and high school female students involved in the program receive first-class instruction and mentorship from some of our area’s brightest professionals. Two of the mentors helping out at the Crack the Code: STEM Mentorship for Girls program are Nicole Haugen, a Principal Software Engineer at Microsoft and Linlie Huggans, a Core Developer at SCHEELS.
“About three years ago, I was at a point in my career where I was looking to give back in terms of the software engineering industry,” said Haugen. “Obviously, there’s not a lot of females like me. So, I was really looking for a way to improve that. It’s been really important to give back. I got into software engineering because I happened to have a female high school teacher that taught me basic web design and had I not had that role model at a young age, I probably would have been on a different career path.”
We caught up with Haugen and Huggans engaged with the girls at the 3rd annual Crack the Code: STEM Mentorship for Girls, occuring on Tuesday nights at 6:00 PM at NDSU College of Business. At this particular mentorship, the girls are participating in an international competition called Technovation for Girls where they brainstorm, design, prototype and implement mobile apps that solve problems in their respective communities. Four groups of girls were each working on different mobile prototype apps ranging from NextMeal app, which connects food banks with people in need to Thrive & Vibe app, to embrace and celebrate cultural diversity. The girls will unveil their respective mobile apps as part of an elevator pitch in front of a panel of judges, representatives from area software companies. As a result, girls will gain skills to plan, take feedback from peers, test & articulate their new ideas – all 21st century skills for them to become a creative, innovative & resourceful adult.
Mckinley Paul, a seventh-grader at Horizon middle school east campus, is working with her mentor, Huggans, to build an app called TrashTag which will encourage people to get outside and clean up the trash on the streets by giving organization to the TrashTag movement.
Paul, who has been attending the uCodeGirl program for three years in a row, began learning to code on her own in the 3rd grade after hearing a talk in class about the importance of coding. Now she has a strong bond with her uCodeGirl mentor, Huggans.
“Mckinley and I got along really well last summer when I was a teacher at uCodeGirl Crack the Code: Tech Camp for Girls, so I asked to work with her as soon as I found out she was a part of the mentoring program. I am also looking forward to teaching again at uCodeGirl 2020 summer tech camp for girls during June 8-12. Mckinley will be supporting young ones as this will be her third time around.” said Huggans.
While there are others in the program, like Paul, who seem to know very early on that coding is the path for them, there are others who took time to figure things out.
Cynthia Mochoge, a senior at Davies High School and mentee of Haugen, didn’t decide that she was going to pursue a career in computer science until she had experienced the uCodeGirl program and mentorship sessions for a number of years. Previously, Mochoge wanted to be a dentist before starting uCodeGirl summer camp in middle school at the urging of her father, a Chemist at North Dakota State University. Now, Mochoge is deciding between her father’s employer, NDSU and the University of Minnesota Duluth to pursue a Computer Science degree.
“I saw how much of an impact Betty (Bethlehem) had on me because of how driven she is by what she does,” said Mochoge. “The shortage of women in the STEM fields also gave me another source of inspiration to be in the STEM field.”
Meghan Hemmer, a sophomore at Fargo Davies high school, is another student in the program that has been impacted by Gronneberg’s passion. Meghan sparked her interest in coding at the age of eight after a trip to the bookstore and finding a book on coding.
Meghan’s parents are her cheerleaders. “One day when we went to Barnes and Noble she found a book on Scratch and she just started carrying it around with her,” said Meghan’s mother Christina Hemmer. Seeing her interest, Mrs Hemmer signed her up for uCodeGirl programs. This is her second year attending the mentorship. “I liked video games so I kind of wanted to learn how they were made,” said Meghan.
Meghan hasn’t completely decided what she wants to specialize in during her post-secondary education, but she’s leaning towards computer science and engineering.
To learn more about uCodeGirl and the difference the organization is making, visit ucodegirl.org