Eighth-grader Hien-Tran Bui entered coding commands for her website focused on tips for putting on makeup. She had just learned the basics of site-building from women who work in the Information Technology field. Nearby, eighth-grader Mya Proctor designed awebsite about activities to do when you’re bored.
“I learned how to code and add links,” said Hien-Tran, who realized the information will be valuable in many fields including what she’s interested in: health care.
Eighteen seventh- and eighth-grade girls from Valleywood Middle School recently attended BitCamp, hosted by Software GR, a nonprofit association dedicated to building and supporting the software design and development community in West Michigan. The opportunity at Amway World Headquarters, in Ada, connected girls with women who work in local IT jobs for a day of coding and website creation. Instructors came from Amway, OST, Spectrum Health and Software GR.
Hien-Tran said she was impressed to learn from women who took various education paths to get to IT careers. Mya, who wants to become a teacher, agreed.
“Before I came here, I didn’t even know what I was doing,” Mya said. “I’m inspired to do more and go beyond my teaching career and do something like this.”
Showing Girls What’s Out There
BitCamp is a great opportunity to get girls out into the IT field, said Nancy McKenzie, Kentwood Public Schools STEM coordinator, who works to connect students with hands-on, real-world experiences. Girls from other Kentwood middle schools, Crestwood and Pinewood, have also attended or will later this semester.
According to Made with Code, while 74 percent of girls express interest in middle school, they at some point get turned off to science, technology, engineering and math careers. Only 0.4 percent of female college freshmen plan to major in computer science, even though CS jobs will be the highest-paying sectors over the next decade, paying almost $15,000 more than average.
“There is quite a lack of women in these fields,” McKenzie said. “And if they are interested, once they go to school and finish college, they can pretty much write their own ticket because there is such a huge gap of females in this industry.”
Having women teach BitCamp shows girls possibilities, she added: “It empowers them. They see these women doing these type of jobs and knowing that it’s something out there that’s needed now and in the future. It gives them exposure to something they can look into later.
“It’s nice for the girls to see women that do these kinds of jobs, so they can have a model about what’s possible.”
Eighth-grader Katelynn Smallwood said she liked the in-depth instruction she received from the women. She hopes to be a medical transcriptionist someday.
“It’s inspirational,” Katelynn said. “It’s not just men who can do the job. There are opportunities for women.”
For Girls Too
Instructors, who presented their stories about going through college and into IT fields, said they hope girls start thinking young about going into what are currently male-dominated fields.
Brittany Nielson, application developer for Spectrum Health, said she knows how it feels to be the only girl in the room.
“When you are a woman going into a tech field that’s mostly men, it’s kind of intimidating,” Nelson said. “We want to make sure women are confident in themselves and their skills when they enter that environment so they can come join our workforce.”