(Photo courtesy Claire Smith)
Claire Smith is hoping her sparkly pink prom dress can show young girls that tech isn’t just for boys.
“It shows girls that you can still be girly and code and to not be intimidated by the things you love,” she said. “I want to bridge the gender gap. I’m trying to show girls that we are just as good as guys, if not better, at tech.”
The dress at the center of Smith’s campaign for gender equality in tech is outfitted with dozens of tiny lights that flash from pink to blue. She got the idea from a Zac Posen dress Claire Danes wore to the Met Gala in 2016 and put the skills she learned in a Girls Who Code workshop to work.
“I didn’t know if i could do it but I wanted to try,” Smith said. “I ended up getting a free prom dress from the Cinderella’s Closet in Timonium.”
It took 2 weeks, a lot of Googling, and support from the Ladies Storm Hackathons Facebook group but Smith shined the night of her prom.
“The prom was amazing, everyone was all shocked about the dress because so many people wear poofy dresses and I came in as the tech girl with the light up dress,” she said. “I thought ‘Woah, I’m the celebrity of the prom.’”
But her celeb status last longer than prom night. A reporter from Mashable picked up on the story and from there the little light up dress spread to Teen Vogue and AdaFruit, and eventually caught the eye of the designer who inspired her in the first place.
“Zac Posen, who I took inspiration from, he sent me a friend request on Instagram so that was nice too,” she said. “It has definitely been a journey and I applied to Maker Faire in New York and I didn’t expect much because it’s just a light up dress. But i got accepted to be an exhibitor!”
Now Claire is turning to GoFundMe to help get her to New York this fall.
“My parents have said if you want to do it then you need to do it and pay for it yourself,” she said.
In addition to hopefully attending Maker Faire and taking classes at Community College of Baltimore County Essex, Smith will be teaching the next generation of girls and passing on her love of technology.
“I learned the basics at Girls Who Code and I then went on a limb and learned the coding world was fantastic,” she said. “But I learned there are not that many girls who code.”
She’s hoping her “Make It Real”’ workshop this fall will start to change that. Using a $3,000 grant from the National Center for Women and Information Technology and a partnership with Be You, Smith will be teaching middle school girls about middle school printing and helping the environment along the way.
“I’m going to be using 3D printing and we’re going to teach girls about honeybees. Their populations are declining because they are lacking water, so we can make special 3D printed dishes for the honeybees so they don’t drown or burn their feet,” Smith said. “The girls will create their own plans and I’m coordinating with the local 4-H center to see which water dish is the best.”
There are 15 girls signed up for the first workshop this fall but Smith hopes to run it again in the spring and inspire even more girls to get involved in technology.
“Once 2020 hits there will be so many jobs in the tech industry and I don’t want it to continue to be male-dominated,” she said. “There will be tons of girls coming out of school who can have a chance at these jobs and I want them to be ready.”