Role Models in Action: CodeIT Girls ignites interest in computer science

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CodeIT Girls leader Meera Kurup enjoying this participant’s creativity.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about role models after reading a brief recently released by Google and Gallup on the role of encouragement in computer science (CS) education. According to the findings, girls are less likely than boys to see someone like themselves doing computer science, and interest in CS among girls also starts to wane as early as age 14. The brief recommends early exposure to role models for girls, especially before age 14.

Luckily, that’s happening in Nashua, where the after-school program CodeIT Girls shows elementary school-aged girls some amazing role models in computer science. I’m already seeing the effects of having role models in action.

CodeIT Girls particpants gather around leader Meera Kurup.

Meera Kurup, leader of CodeIT Girls, is a junior at Bishop Guertin High School who started the program to spark young girls’ interest in technology and computing. She noticed that as girls grow older, they lose interest, finding these fields difficult and not “cool.” She wanted to change that stereotype early on by introducing coding to girls in elementary school and showing them how fun and exciting it can be.

Kurup, winner of National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing awards at both the local and national levels, applied to run her own program through NCWIT’S AspireIT K-12 Outreach Program, with the STEM Discovery Lab acting as program partner. AspireIT connects high school and college women with K-12 girls interested in computing using a near-peer model to teach younger girls fundamentals in programming and computational thinking in fun, creative environments. Kurup is joined by two University of New Hampshire Manchester CS students, Maggie O’Brien and Aashirya Kaushik. The trio makes an impressive group of role models for the elementary girls.

UNHM student Maggie O’Brien helping CodeIT Girls program participant develop her story.

But I can’t help but notice that the girls — with their enthusiasm, creativity and openness — are also serving as role models for each other and all of us. Each week, they share their stories and help each other through challenges. It’s collaboration at its finest, and we are all learning right along with them.

“I wasn’t expecting the girls to learn so quickly and to be so independent,” said O’Brien. “Sometimes, they think of a concept that they want to do, but need extra help finding the right code to use to make their idea happen. I am very impressed with the girls and how much excitement they have every week.”

Kurup and Kaushik agree, crediting the girls’ excitement and curiosity for making CodeIT Girls such a fulfilling experience.

Maggie O’Brien. Aashirya Kaushik. Meera Kurup.

“A few girls were so into the classes that they started asking me whether they can log in from home and work on their projects. The enthusiasm of the girls validated that this kind of program is much needed in many schools in our country,” Kurup said. “The trend in the tech industry is slowly changing as more women are being introduced to the field and more girls are learning about how interesting and worthwhile the field is.”

I have a feeling after working with all of these young role models that the next brief Google and Gallup release may tell a different story.

Lab Notes is a regular column by the University of New Hampshire STEM Discovery Lab. Have an idea for a topic? Communicate with us on Facebook and Twitter @UNHSTEMlab.

In her role as the STEM Discovery Lab Coordinator, Emily supports the collaborative effort between UNH Cooperative Extension and UNH Manchester of the STEM Discovery Lab located on the Manchester campus. Emily was an English as a Second Language and English Language Learner educator for youth and adults in the greater Manchester and Seacoast areas for over 8 years and was the project assistant for the GATE CITY Project (Getting All Teachers ESOL Certified in Two Years) at UNH Manchester from 2012 to 2015. Emily earned her B.A. in international studies from The Ohio State University and her M.Ed. in secondary education from UNH Manchester. She is the mother of two active teenage boys and loves spending time outdoors.