Girls Who Code

Freshmen Catherine Washington (left) and Celia Garcia (right) are two of many high school students in El Paso who joined Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that provides computer science education to girls nationwide.

If women were fully represented in the computer science workforce, it would have 1.8 million more computer scientists. This is according to a 2014 workforce data analysis by Change The Equation, a nonprofit coalition committed to improving children’s education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that provides computer science education to girls nationwide, aims to close the gender gap in technology by reaching one million young women by 2020. Since its establishment in 2012, Girls Who Code served more than 3,860 girls in 29 states.

This past fall, Girls Who Code launched several clubs in El Paso County for the first time. So far, there are clubs in Parkland High School, Northwest Early College High School and El Paso High School.

“Top job offerings are at B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in computer science and various computer-related forms of engineering, yet the gender gap in computer science is ghastly,” said Kim Pries, a Texas-STEM teacher who heads the Girls Who Code club at Parkland. “I am honored to be part of a solution to this gender gap situation.”

A new El Paso non-profit, the Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development (CREEED), launched the Girls Who Code chapter at Parkland in November. The club now has 18 members.

“It’s been fairly well documented that there’s a direct correlation between educational attainment levels and per capita income,” CREEED interim director Eduardo Rodriguez said.

According to data analyzed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012, the annual mean wage for engineering jobs is $79,000. For all other occupations, the mean annual wage is $45,790. In addition, the unemployment rate for engineers is only 3.8 percent, compared to 7 percent for all other occupations.

Even a modest boost in tech skills can add more than 30 percent more in earnings, according to Change The Equation.

Girls Who Code is more than just a means to empower girls to enter into STEM careers – it’s also fun, said Catherine Tabor, one of the teachers who heads the Girls Who Code club at Northwest Early College High School in Canutillo.

“They’re learning how to program things, to animate different programs,” Tabor said. “We’re at a basic level, but if they continue with the program, the next year [or] next level has more in depth animation. It’s got video game design – things like that. So, the girls can move up levels and learn different skills.”

Programming animation allows for artistic creativity, Tabor added.

“We encourage the girls to be innovative and express themselves through code,” said Tabor, who teaches physics, astronomy and computer science at Northwest.

Since the club started in October at Northwest, 21 girls have enrolled, she said.

“This program allows the girls to be empowered to understand that computer science-based careers are a viable option for them,” said Tabor, who is also working toward a Ph.D. in computer science at UTEP. “Should the girls complete the program, they become Girls Who Code alumni. Alumni status from Girls Who Code can bring with it a number of perks, such as scholarship opportunities, job opportunities and college admission opportunities.”

Ninth-grader Tiffany De Santiago, a member of the club at Northwest, said she wants to study engineering in college: either aeronautical or mechanical.

“I would like to become an engineer and I think that engineering is [moving] toward technological advancements,” De Santiago said. “I think they’re more into computers, so that’s one thing I have to master.”

Elfa Beaven, an eleventh-grader in the Northwest club who plans to study gynecology, said she studies coding for the joy of it.

“I actually didn’t know anything about what it was [or] what you could do with it,” Beaven said. “I tend to just like that I’m learning something that I never thought I could do.”