Girl-powered coding camp and #AppDevelopHer dreams

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Sarah Fung, 16, junior at The Founders Academy in Manchester and a competitive swimmer, shows the app she created to keep track of her laps and times. Photo/Pat Grossmith

MANCHESTER,  NH — Eight teenage girls, all outfitted in light blue T-shirts emblazoned with an AppDevelopHer logo, quickly took their seats Monday morning in a computer lab in the Goulet Science Center at Saint Anselm College.

The teens, all attending Girls Inc. summer camp, had signed on to learn computer coding.  On a large screen in the front of a class was the AppDevelopHer page opened to the Boston Map tour.

Their instructors were two teenage girls, both students of The Founders Academy, a public charter school, who were awarded a $2,000 grant from Aspire IT and the University of New Hampshire STEM Lab enabling them to teach the computer coding classes.

Senior Leah Marville and junior Sara Fung, both 16, have already established themselves as whiz kids.  They, along with Gabby Alvarez, won the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) for Aspirations in Computing award for New Hampshire last year for their computing-related achievements and interests.

Additionally, Marville last year won the Congressional App Challenge for the First Congressional District of NH for coming up with an app that tracks the Electoral College. A majority of 538 electoral votes is required to elect the President.  With Marville’s app, users can simulate presidential elections and see how each state’s results impact the final outcome.

“You can put in a congressional race and find out if the results will turn a state blue or red,” Marville said. “It’s really fun to play with.”

The win allowed her to go to Washington, D.C., where she met the newly elected congressman, Chris Pappas, D-Manchester.

Fung, during an eye doctor appointment, learned that for general eye health, every 20 minutes she is on a computer, she should stop and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.  With that in mind, she came up with an app that alerts her when it is time to take that break and plays music for the needed 20 seconds.

She also designed her own Manchester map tour.

Both started learning computer coding in the sixth grade.  Fung said it was in her algebra class that she learned how to code games.

U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan talks with Leah Marville, left, and Sarah Fung, who obtained a $2,000 grant to teach Girls Inc. members computer coding. Photo/Pat Grossmith

Fung intends to become a computer programmer, although she said she also has an interest in bio-tech.  She wants to work for Google.

Marville is leaning toward the computer field but hasn’t decided yet. 

Among the students trying her hand at coding was U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, who admitted she did not pick it up as easily as the teens.  

Sarah gave the instructions, with the aid of the oversized computer screen, while Leah easily went from student to student giving them one-on-one-help, including the Senator.

For the Boston Map Tour, click on button 1 and label it “Directions,” Sarah instructed.  Click on button 2 and label it “Food.“ Then it was time to google Boston and click on images.  Students had the options of picking the Boston skyline or some other interesting site to serve as the featured photo for their Boston app.

By the time the class was over, the students had a working Boston Tour App, featuring sites of interest including the Freedom Trail, Harvard University, the New England Aquarium, the U.S.S. Constitution and Fenway Park.       

The Senator encouraged the girls to consider the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields for their future while also developing computer coding skills.   If they do that, she said, they will find there will be a lot of choices for them from employers.

U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan learns computer coding with an assist from Leah Marville, a senior at The Founders Academy in Manchester.
Photo/Pat Grossmith

“For whatever reason, girls have been told they aren’t good at this,” Hassan said.  However, she said boys, girls, men and woman all learn in different ways.  She said every day she asks at least one question.  “There is no stupid question,” she said.

She also told the girls that women make up more than 50 percent of the population in the United States.

“If you have 50 percent of your population under-represented, you are not going to have a great economy, you won’t have enough people to do the work we need,” she said.

She told Fung and Marville that what they had achieved was “really impressive.  We are generally at our best when we are all helping each other,” Hassan said.