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Girl Scouts to Code Girls: Learning About STEM

CSUF Mentors Promote Computer Science
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Creative Coding

Girl Scout Cadette Moira Clark, 12, a seventh-grader from Troop 16 in Buena Park, likes to play video games. One of her favorites is Pokémon.

“It’d be really fun if I could program my own video game,” exclaimed Clark.

One day she just might — after learning about the world of computer programming through a mentoring program with Cal State Fullerton’s Association for Computing Machinery-Women (ACM-W) student club.

Clark is among 40 Orange County Girl Scouts in grades four through eight participating in ACM-W’s “Creative Coding” program to promote young girls’ interest in computer science. The goal of ACM-W is to increase the number of girls in computer science by exposing them to programming at a young age, said Natalie Alexandra Ang, ACM-W president and a computer science major.

For Ang, the reality of how few women are in the computing field didn’t dawn on her until her first programming class, she told the Girl Scouts at the first spring session held earlier this month.

“In a class of 40 students, there were six women, including myself,” she said. “Rather than this discouraging me, I was encouraged because it’s an opportunity to represent what girls are able to do. I hope to inspire young girls about how technology and science are incorporated in society and how exciting it would be for them to become part of it.”

In CSUF’s computer science undergraduate program, the female student population is about 15 percent, said Michael Shafae, chair and associate professor of computer science, who started the club last spring to support and provide extracurricular opportunities to female students. Shafae; Doina Bein, assistant professor of computer science; and Beth Harnick-Shapiro, lecturer in computer science, are advisers.

The collaboration between Girl Scouts of Orange County and ACM-W couldn’t be more ideal, said Shafae.

“The students of the ACM-W chapter are developing their own curriculum and engaging the girls in a fun, hands-on program, where they are learning about programming, geometry and math,” he said.

Girl Scouts of Orange County launched its STEM Consortium last year, a collaboration with nine leading STEM companies dedicated to bringing STEM experiences to girls across the county. As part of this initiative, the consortium developed the “My STEM Life” Girl Scout badge, which offers middle school Girl Scouts across Orange County opportunities to discover how science, technology, engineering and math are a big part of their lives, said Lara Chard, Girl Scouts of Orange County senior program specialist.

“STEM is a core initiative for us,” Chard said. “We want girls to understand how STEM relates to their interests. Computer programming is relevant in today’s world, and programs such as this make it accessible to a new generation of female programmers.”

ACM-W also received a $5,340 gift from Google in support of the mentoring program, enabling it to expand, said Bein.

“We’re excited for this opportunity to influence young girls’ impressions about programming opportunities and increase the number of girls in computer science,” Bein added.

At the sessions, held inside a College of Engineering and Computer Science lab, the CSUF student mentors — both female and male — are teaching the girls a coding program called “Turtle Graphics” and also will introduce them to “ozobots” — tiny machines that are a fun way to learn about problem-solving and programming through robotics.

Mentor Ashish Merani, a computer science graduate student, hopes to inspire future STEM majors and show the girls how math and science affects their daily lives.

“I hope that the girls will get to know the insights of computer science and that this will encourage them to explore the endless possibilities in computer science,” he said. “The best part is mentoring and encouraging them to have fun writing the code.”