Coding, friendship inspire the next generation of women in IT

As the sun begins to set, its light peering slowly through the all-glass wall on the south side of Tech Station, giggles radiate through the room as chairs slide across the floor to see what is on one of the station’s computer screens.

Inside, 10 middle school girls are using programs such as Python to develop their own games that vary from using Poké Balls to incorporating upbeat music. Behind the keystrokes are friendships and camaraderie, making their time spent at FIU that much more special.

The girls are here for the Girls Who Code club, a two-hour weekly meeting that occurs every Tuesday on FIU’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus. The program started during the Fall 2016 semester and now offers a second club this spring to middle school students.

The objective is to teach the girls coding, robotics, web and app development, and computational thinking such as abstraction, algorithms and binary systems while also helping develop communication and teamwork skills in a safe and comfortable environment where the girls feel like they can be themselves.

Mario Eraso is the STEM/Internships coordinator at FIU’s School of Computing and Information Sciences.

“Based on teaching best practices, this course is about more than just teaching the girls to code,” said Mario Eraso, the STEM/internships coordinator at the School of Computing and Information Sciences. “It is about allowing them to build the necessary soft skills as well as the deep relationships that may further inspire them to pursue a career in computer science.”

The girls are mentored and taught by female college students currently pursuing careers in computer science.

“They love playing each other’s games,” said Kierstin Matsuda, the girls’ coach and mentor for the Tuesday class. “It’s really nice to see the friendships they have built and the passion they have developed for the course. One of the girls even spent her entire one-week vacation building her game. ”

Matsuda is one of the club’s three student teachers. Two of them are FIU students and one is a high school volunteer whose passion for computer science inspired her to continue to work with the girls. The hope is to expand the program to five clubs of 10 students each.

Kiersten Matsuda and a Girls Who Code Club student

Every semester the club also organizes an event to showcase the projects the students have produced. It is also an opportunity to educate the community and the girls’ parents on computer science and information technology.

Eraso also coordinates the Girls Who Code Summer Immersive Program. This program is a seven-week program for 20 junior and senior high school girls. FIU will host its fourth summer intensive this year.

“If I had had a program like this in middle school I would have studied computer science and not business,” said Matsuda. “I am about to get my degree in business, but I really want to have a career in computer science. If I had been exposed to these things during my formative years, I would have chosen this as my profession. That is the entire purpose of the program.”

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