Calvin hosts new chapter of Girls Who Code

For a nation striving towards gender equality, the United States still has a surprisingly large gender gap between men and women in tech careers.

Gender disparity in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and especially in tech companies, is an issue that is gaining more notice as companies release statistics about their workforce. Recent diversity reports from within companies like Amazon, Apple and Google show that employment in these companies is largely dominated by white males.

A new club, launched this January on Calvin’s campus, seeks to address this gender imbalance. The club is a division of the national organization Girls Who Code (GWC), a program designed to “inspire, educate and equip girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities,” according to the GWC website.

“In a nutshell, the club’s purpose is to provide grade 6-12 girls who are interested in technology with a possible on-ramp to a tech-related career and to have fun while they’re at it,” said Joel Adams, the chair of Calvin’s Computer Science Department.

The GWC club at Calvin was started by Camille Emig, a junior at Grand Rapids City High. She worked with Professor Adams the past few summers at Calvin’s Imaginary World Camps, summer computer camps for middle and high school students.

“Professor Adams approached me [about] starting this chapter of GWC at Calvin,” explained Emig. “I agreed that it would be a great thing to get more women involved in computer science before they are out of high school.”

The free program meets on Monday evenings in the Calvin Science Building. The students had their second meeting this past Monday. The club studies a curriculum provided by GWC and is led by Ruth Holtrop, a 2014 Calvin computer science grad who now works as a software developer at Open Systems Technologies.

According to Adams, GWC is designed for much more than simply improving computing skills. “The benefits to the girls include social time with other girls who have similar interests, the development of algorithmic thinking skills, which are beneficial regardless of what the girls end up choosing as their career path, and a potential on-ramp to many different tech-related careers.”

Emig cited the gender disparity between men and women in tech careers as a motivator for her to start this club.

“I think [GWC] is a very important club because of the gender gap in computer science. A great way to help fix this gap is to provide girls with an environment that they can learn computer science without being the only female in the room,” said Emig.

Adams agreed. “One reason that women and minorities are so under-represented at [large tech] companies is that almost no high schools offer courses that expose students to algorithmic thinking — a thinking skill that is critical for success in computer science and software development.”

His hope is that, through this program, girls will be able to develop skills that will help them thrive in college and, if they decide to, eventually in a tech company.

Adams also hopes the participants will understand how important computer science and software development are in the world today. He cited Facebook, Twitter, eBay and Amazon as only a few of the many companies driven by software.

“By showing these girls how widespread the impact of software is in today’s world, they can begin to see that becoming proficient at software development is one way to change the world.”