When it comes to getting girls interested in tech, waiting until they’re older is not an option for Katie Egan.
“We just really feel that to really make an impact and change things you really have to hit them before they go through middle school and before they go through puberty,” said Egan. The data agree.
The Fulton, Md., resident is a cofounder HowGirlsCode, a Howard County program that offers computer science to elementary school girls. Reaching girls early helps introduce them to computers, but it also helps empower them to believe that girls can and should be involved in a technology class that has historically been known as a boy’s world, Egan said.
When Egan set out to pull together a summer camp edition of HowGirlsCode, that mental part was a big factor.
The result is Mind, Body & Coding, which will be held on the UMBC campus from July 6-10.
The rising 3rd-6th-grade girls who participate will have a chance to get a taste of computer science, as well as building and programming in robotics. They will also have yoga classes taught by local empowerment guru Julie Reisler, and get a tour of the UMBC campus.
One reason for the extra programming is a need to get the elementary school girls out from behind their screens. In focusing that programming on believing in oneself and seeing a college campus, however, the hope is to show the girls that they have a place in the world of computer science.
“One of the things that we really wanted to incorporate was the whole concept of a growth mindset,” Egan said.
Pioneered by psychologist Carol Dweck, people with a “growth mindset” believe they can solve problems and improve, while people with a “fixed mindset” feel that they are innately incapable of solving the problems. In the case of girls and computer science, research shows that many girls start with a fixed mindset because of the field’s association with males.
In cyber, IT and software development, introducing girls to the space early is seen as an important step on the path to future employment. Closing the gender gap will offer a new set of employees to hire in fields where there are more open positions than people with the skills to fill them.
That need is underscored by the camp’s funding source for robotics kits and yoga mats: the NSA.
“We just need more people in computer science, period,” said Kent Malwitz, president of UMBC Training Centers, which is hosting the camp. “And a whole new audience would be women.”
More than 50 girls have already signed up, but openings remain — including spots for a needs-based scholarship that can be offered to girls who qualify.