According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, currently 26% of professional computing occupations are held by women. The National Science Foundation, indicates that only 17% of industrial engineers are women. Why is there such a discrepancy in gender representation in these fields? How would technology be different if 50% of the creators were female?
Our Girls Engage Technology (GET) program addresses this gender disparity. Teens are mentored by professional women in tech fields where they learn how to teach “Scratch” computer programming and wearable electronics. The teens then use that knowledge to instruct young girls in grades 4 through 5. The program offers these teens the opportunity to be perceived as the expert, which increases their identity as competent and capable. It also provides young girls with role models and a positive programming experience so that they have confidence to take the next step in technology learning.
GET functions through a partnership between SA, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Girl Scouts. The program is grant funded and free to all interested girls. Since the pilot program in spring 2015, GET has served more than 800 girls in the Portland Metro Area.
The program was designed by Dr. Barbara Miner. She serves as the primary instructor. Miner has a Ph.D. in chemistry and a passion for inspiring young girls in engineering and technology. After 25 years of running electron microscopy labs for the development of microprocessors, Miner retired from engineering and became a Social Venture Encore Fellow with SA, where she started the GET program to address gender disparities in computer and technology education. Miner’s goal is to serve 1,000 girls by the end of the SA fiscal year.
This year Saturday Academy celebrates 35 years teaching science, technology, engineering, math and the arts to students in grades 2-12 the Portland Metro Area. In 1983, Jackie Jackson and Gail Whitney founded Saturday Academy with the goal of inspiring students to follow their curiosity in science and technology. Both educators in Portland, they left their mainstream jobs to develop an innovative program designed to connect middle-school students with community professionals interested in sharing their passion with youth. The focus: hands-on, in-depth learning opportunities for any motivated student. Income, race or gender was not to be a barrier. The success of the program received national attention. In 1996, President Clinton awarded Whitney with a presidential award for excellence for the program’s work in math, science and engineering mentoring. From the initial cohort of 150 students, Saturday Academy has grown to provide classes, camps and internships to more than 7,000 students each year.