Written by: Lauren Wolfe -
Did you know that the percentage of women in computing has dropped from 37% to only 24% since 1995? Girls Who Code is an organization that is working to close the gender gap in tech by offering various programs for girls aged 8-17 to learn to code. As an organization Girls Who Code acknowledges that there are historical and institutional barriers (specifically racial discrimination) that have played a part in the widening gender gap. They specifically seek to serve girls from underrepresented minority groups, low-income backgrounds, and lack of exposure to a computer science education and resources.
Fred Hutchinson hosts a Girls Who Code club for high school-aged girls that is run by computational biology graduate students from Fred Hutch and UW. The club runs during the academic school year and volunteers work on the curriculum mostly during the summer. I spoke with Lauren Gentles and Kate Crawford, both graduate students in the Bloom lab who volunteer with Grils Who Code, about how the program is growing and adapting in 2020.
In pre-COVID times the club met weekly on Fred Hutchinson’s campus to work on hands-on coding projects. However, as COVID-19 hit Seattle the club had to drastically change how it functioned and quickly switch things over to a remote format. Much of this effort fell to Kate and Emma Hoppe (a graduate student in the Bradley lab). They had been planning on a bioinformatics related project when the program was going to be in-person and ran with that theme. The first few weeks they relied heavily on the Rosalind bioinformatics coding platform while Kate and Emma developed Jupyter notebooks for the participants to learn from. Kate described that first remote session as ‘Ad Hoc and stressful’. They weren’t sure if it was sustainable to keep offering Girls Who Code as a remote program. Luckily, the graduate student volunteers pulled together and developed a curriculum to teach Python to the participants. This session is ongoing right now and going much smoother than that initial remote program!
The Girls Who Code program at Fred Hutch is around 4 years old and growing quickly! The current session was the first time they had to turn away applicants. In the future, Kate and Lauren would love to be able to offer the program at two levels (one for beginners and another for more advanced participants), but this requires more volunteers.
Volunteering can look a couple of different ways:
- Help run the session: The club meets once a week and volunteers can help to facilitate these sessions.
- Teach 1-day tutorial: Join for a single day and teach the participants a new skill!
- Facilitate a field trip experience: The club also takes the participants out on field trips to meet data scientists/programmers and learn about their day-to-day.
Volunteering with Girls Who Code starts with sending an email to girlswhocode at fredhutch dot org. Even if you’re not sure how you’d like to get involved you’re highly encouraged to reach out and start a conversation!
Special thanks to Lauren Gentles and Kate Crawford for taking the time to chat about Girls Who Code and for facilitating this amazing program on campus