Girl Power: Carmel High School student Gayatri Balasubramanian founded Carmel Girls Can Code to encourage other women to pursue computer sciences

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By Anna Skinner

After discovering she had a passion for computer science and coding, Carmel High School junior Gayatri Balasubramanian decided she wanted to encourage other girls to explore the possibility of a future in a field typically dominated by men. So she founded the Carmel Girls Can Code Club that meets every other Monday at the school.

“There are not many girls in computer sciences. A lot are scared to enter the field,” she said. “They don’t think it’s a possibility because sometimes you get the vibe in computer science that guys don’t want you.”

After working with her computer science teacher, Margaret Winans, to gather other girls, Balasubramanian held the first Carmel Girls Can Code meeting in September of last year. Approximately 12 girls are now a part of the club.

“Girls don’t try it on their own and don’t know if they’ll like it,” Balasubramanian said. “But if they never try something, they will never know if they will like it. We also want to open this up as a possibility for a path to follow.”

Balasubramanian plans to follow that path herself, as she said she hopes to study computer science and math in college.

According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the nation will have approximately 1.4 million computer-related job openings by 2020, but only approximately 30 percent of the positions can be filled with students graduating from U.S. schools with bachelor’s degrees in computing. The National Center for Women & Information Technology suggests girls “represent a valuable, mostly untapped talent pool” for the future.

“Another area that I have already begun to pursue, and will continue in the future, is inspiring girls to fearlessly try computer science, because of how underrepresented we are in these high-tech areas,” she said.

To achieve that goal, Balasubramanian and the other coding girls in the club visit Mohawk Trails Elementary and Carmel Middle School on a regular basis to teach younger kids how to code and use Scratch and Python, a programming language that allows users to create their own code.

At the middle school, the girls brought robots to connect to laptops to introduce coding to the students. The club also assisted with an innovation fair at Mohawk Trails Elementary so students can create and show off programs of their own. The girls in the club have paired up with younger students at the schools to serve in a mentorship role.

“My favorite part is probably seeing girls or kids in general discovering computer sciences,” Balasubramanian said.

Winans, a computer science teacher at CHS and the club’s sponsor, also encourages girls to pursue coding.

“After teaching computer science for 10 years, I have found that girls are just as gifted in coding as boys, and I believe having both perspectives working together leads to better program development,” Winans said. “With the projected increase in software jobs in the next few years, we definitely need women trained and able to take these positions. Also, there has been much research showing that women are often passionate in developing software that helps others or makes our world a better place to live. By sponsoring the Carmel Girls Can Code Club, I hope to affect as many girls as possible here at Carmel High School and the elementary and middle schools in the district.”

At a March meeting, the club listened to a speaker present for the first time. The speaker, Lisa Campbell, a 2014 CHS graduate, spoke on pursuing computer science in college and answered questions from the girls.

For additional information, email carmelgirlscancode@gmail.com.

Women Earn:

  • 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees
  • 42 percent of all undergraduate math and statistics degrees
  • 40 percent of all undergraduate physical sciences degrees
  • 18 percent of all undergraduate computer and information sciences degrees

Source: National Center for Women & Information Technology

What deters girls from computing?

  • Irrelevant curriculum and reliance on lecturing instead of hands-on projects
  • Teaching styles that discourage collaboration
  • Lack of opportunities to take risks and make mistakes
  • Limited knowledge or inaccurate perceptions about computing careers
  • Lower confidence than boys, even when actual achievement levels are similar

Source: National Center for Women & Information Technology

What can you do?

  • Talk with girls about why they should consider a computing career.
  • Talk with girls and others about unconscious biases and how to handle them.
  • Talk with school personnel about the need for computing education.
  • Provide girls with early technology and computing experiences.
  • Provide ongoing encouragement. Never underestimate the power of this simple effort.
  • Don’t mistake prior experience for ability.
  • Advocate for CS certification and the adoption of CS curriculum standards.
  • Ensure that your own organization employs inclusive practices that will retain young women who choose computing.

Source: National Center for Women & Information Technology

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