Technology has permeated virtually every area of modern life. The question on everyone’s mind, from educators to top information technology companies, is why aren’t more girls interested in tech? By 2024, there will be an estimated 1.1 million computing-related job openings in the United States. Last year, however, only 26% of the computing workforce were women. While 56% of Advanced Placement test-takers in 2016 were female and, in particular, 47% of AP Calculus test-takers were young women, only 23% took the AP Computer Science exam.*
Or, as Wellington Middle School Technology Teacher Helen McConaghy asked herself, “In a professional field currently dominated by men, where are the women to help fill the gap of an estimated one million more software jobs than applicants to fill them?”
It was not long after McConaghy set out to design a curriculum for her students that would encourage and inspire girls to take a closer look at tech that, quite fortuitously, Wellington parent Tara Paider P ‘24 approached her with very same goal in mind. Paider, an IT Data Analytics executive at Nationwide Insurance, was interested in creating a collaboration between Nationwide and Wellington. Her idea involved pairing up teams of middle school girls with female coordinators and developers from Nationwide to develop their own apps. Students would meet periodically with their mentors at school over the course of several months for coding workshops. The culmination of their efforts would be an all-day Hackathon, an event generally lasting from 24-48 hours in which a working prototype for a website, mobile app, or hardware is built completely from scratch.
For many middle school girls, it was not a hard decision to participate. “I had been interested in coding for a while and thought it would be cool to make an actual app,” Sara Ober ‘22 said.
Lola Perez ‘21 felt similarly. “I had a lot of fun doing the Day of Code in 6th grade and really liked working with Scratch [a programming platform form for beginning coders]. I wanted to take that experience to the next level.”
The pilot program for Girlz in Tech was officially launched in February 2017. For three months, 22 Nationwide mentors, one of whom was Wellington alumna Sophie Knowles ‘12, visited our school to get to know the students, brainstorm potential apps, and serve as consultants on coding. Teams created their own logos and began designing their screens. Students took charge of team responsibilities such as pictures, announcer, attendance, coordinator, and notetaker. Some also took on roles such as coordinator, developer, tester, requirements, and scrum master. In their workshops, students developed the requirements for their apps and began drafting promotional presentations. Most teams used App Inventor, dragging boxes for their code commands to expedite an otherwise time consuming and complicated process that requires years of education and experience.
“Our mentors gave us no limits,” Perez said. “They just helped us in every way.”
Most importantly, while the girls learned programming in their workshops, they were not permitted to begin coding their actual app yet. At the Hackathon in May, McConaghy explained, “Tara and I wanted the girls to experience a mini version of what is done in the IT department at Nationwide.
The event was held at Nationwide’s Innovation lab where students spent the morning creating their apps and prepared their pitches that would be presented to a panel of judges in the afternoon. A highlight of the day included seeing cognitive/artificial intelligence in action through Nate, Nationwides’ new NAO robot. Nate was designed to be able to answer questions about Nationwide Insurance products. Students also had the opportunity to see the Arduino and Raspberry Pi microcontrollers, both of which have been newly unveiled at Wellington this fall.
Parents were invited to the Hackathon in the afternoon as “business partners,” giving students a chance to pitch to their parents before their final presentations to the judges. When the moment of truth finally arrived and the girls demonstrated their apps live on stage before a large crowd, remarkably, no one seemed the least bit nervous. “I wasn’t afraid to present because we were proud of our hard work and we wanted to share it with the world,” Ober said. Her team designed an app to help dog owners. “My favorite part of the whole experience was showing the end result, an app that’s functional and we can make even better.”
Paider could not be more excited by the first Hackathon partnership with Wellington. “What these girls did was very complex,” she said. “It was not beginner programming. I’m so proud of all of them. They worked really hard, and I hope they continue. Even if they don’t go into an IT field, they can still use these skills in any profession. I have no doubt that these girls will remember this moment for the rest of their lives.”
Congratulations to all the participants in the Girlz in Tech program. The following is a complete list of team members and the apps they designed at the Hackathon.
1st Place: FOODIE INSPIRED (Maya Avery ‘23**, Allison Klingler ‘23, Rachel Lyden ‘23, Abigail Noritz ‘23, Alexandra Pepper ‘23, Hailey Dickinson ‘23)
An app where you take a survey to see what food you are so you can talk to kids from other schools based on food likes. There were live chat and recipe options.
2nd Place: INSTANT LYRICS (Christine Cooke ‘21, Katie Humphrys ‘22, Lilly Thompson ‘23, Caroline Cooke ‘21, Reagan Kadlic ‘21, Sydney Belford ‘21, Kate Thompson ‘23**)
An app that provides an easy way to access data about a song based on a few lyrics.
3rd Place: MyBrary (Hanna Jones-Beyene ‘22, Sara Velasco ‘22, Lily Yu ‘22, Rachel Scott ‘22)
An app that takes what you look for in books and completes a list of suggestions, saving you time in finding a book to read.
360 BEAUTY (Lilliana Adkinson ‘23, Sophia Penegor ‘23, Avery Thielman ‘22, Simrin Ruegsegger ‘24)
An app to help you choose what to wear. You can also vote, buy, or sell beauty items.
DESIGNIMALS (Claire Cathala ‘24, Sasha Homsy ‘24, Alexis Kennedy ‘24, Logan Vargo ‘24)
An app where you take parts of animals and put them together to make a new one.
DOGGO (Lola Perez ‘21, Paige Bennett ‘21, Sara Ober ‘22, Sofia Lott ‘24)
An app database and guide for new dog owners. Features include talking to a vet and posting pictures of your dog.
GALORE (Awbrey Belcher ‘23, Cassidy Chenelle ‘23, Katie Kuttrus ‘23, Sophia Shihab ‘23)
A social media app where you can share clothing ideas and new trends with friends.
JACAL (Alexis Burkhalter ‘22, Abigail Burkhardt ‘22, Clara Evans ‘22, Jamie Murphy ‘22, Lauren Okoye ‘22)
An app for schools with uniforms that changes what accessories to wear on different days, so you don’t wear the same thing every day or can wear the same thing with a friend.
PETTER (Assata Ben-Levi ‘21, Noora Rajjoub ‘21, Savanna Riley ‘21, Trinity Scott ‘21, Lauren Sabol ‘21)
An app where you can track lost pets in your area with social media features as well.
STUDY BUDDY (Audrey Arman ‘21, Rikki Kahn-Yee ‘21*, Grace Kellicker ‘21**, Abigail Peterson ‘21, Taylor Vargo ‘21)
An app designed for organization of student life featuring flashcards, a planner, a link to textbooks and more. By students for students.
To read more about Middle School Technology Teacher Helen McConaghy’s impetus for establishing a Girlz in Tech program, click here to read her blog post.
*Sources: CIO from IDG, 2016 (“Wanted: More Women CIOs (but do they want the job?)”); College Board AP Program Summary Report, 2016 (Calculus AB & BC, Computer Science A); CRA Taulbee Survey 2015; Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employed and Experienced Unemployed Persons by Detailed Occupation, Sex, Race, and Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity 2016 (unpublished table from Current Population Survey); Department of Labor Bureau of Labor, Employment by Detailed Occupation 2015 (Occupational Category: 15-1100), includes new and replacement jobs and assumes current undergraduate degree (CIP 11) production levels persist; Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employed Persons by Detailed Occupation, Sex, Race, and Hispanic or Latino Ethnicity 2016; Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), “The American Freshman: National Norms 2015”; Intel ISEF finalist breakdown by gender, 2016 (unpublished); National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2015 (CIP 11).
**Did not participate in the Hacktathon event.