Empowering Young Women in STEM: CoderGirlz 2017

On Tuesday September 26th, for 2.5 hours, Microsoft hosted an unforgettable experience for 108 girls from 7 different schools from the Fresno Unified School District. The purpose of this visit was to expose CoderGirlz club members to female technologists at Microsoft and to inspire the students to continue down STEM career paths.

Over 20% of the girls had never been outside of Fresno, and it was our pleasure to welcome them to Silicon Valley. The girls were greeted with an opening keynote, had the opportunity to ask questions to a panel of technical women, were fed an incredible lunch, and rotated through technical activity stations (Hour of Code, Xbox, AI Photo Booth). The CoderGirlz left inspired to follow STEM career paths.

About the Fresno Unified School District:

Fresno USD has been a Microsoft partner for 10+ years, and is a Microsoft K-12 Showcase district; the students have access to Office 365 and Minecraft Education Edition. Fresno is the 4th largest district in California, serving 75,000 students, of whom 78% are low income and 22% are learning English. In other words, Fresno Unified represents some of our country’s most economically disadvantaged students. Microsoft launched the Futures Challenge and 21C Learning Design initiative in 2016 alongside 220 teachers at 89 different schools in the district, and over the past academic year touched the lives of over 12,000 students.

This is the second time we’ve hosted the Fresno CoderGirlz organization. In March 2016, we hosted the first group of CoderGirlz with a panel, tour, and lunch in the SVC office.

Opening Keynote

Christine Matheney, Technical Evangelist, US Commercial Software Engineering (US CSE) opened the event. The US CSE team and Kim Dault (CELA) provided SWAG to each attendee, which welcomed them at their seats. Christine provided a Microsoft Silicon Valley overview, trivia questions, and whimsical keynote on how “Disney movies make you a better Computer Scientist”. She then transitioned to the panel discussion.

Panel Discussion + Q&A

Featuring women in technical roles at Microsoft

  • Vanessa Diaz (Moderator), Exec Business Admin, US Commercial Software Engineering
  • Sarah Kaplan, Principal Director, Office 356 – Exchange
  • Karen Leonard, Director, XBOX – Electrical Engineering
  • Jackie Becker, Technical Evangelist, US Commercial Software Engineering
  • Sara Benhamron, Technical Evangelist, US One Commercial Partner

Panel Observations

  • Our panelists were a good blend of recent college graduates and senior technical women, with different perspectives on career and growth.
  • Students were most interested in learning about the backgrounds of the panelists, and what they did to overcome the challenges they had faced.
  • After the panels, the girls still had many follow ups and questions for the panelists. They stayed through lunch to mentor students.

Technical Activities

Next Steps Handout:

As part of the swag packages, each student received a worksheet with resources, workshops, and information on all the Tech Activity Stations. The girls took the worksheets back home, so they could continue their CS/STEM journey. We also sent extra copies back with the teachers, so they could share with the students who were unable to make it.

Minecraft: Hour of Code

We had 30+ devices (mostly Surface Books and Surface Pros), where the students could come over and do an hour of code. 45+ students came through the station and worked through the Minecraft Hour of Code. Many of the girls had already played with Minecraft, and enjoyed being able to program silly things into the game.

Microsoft Store – Xbox Stations

Amber Martin (Community Dev Specialist) and Aaron Rudolf (Product Advisor) from the Microsoft Store in Palo Alto were generous in sponsoring this event. In addition to the 10 Surface Pro devices they brought for the Hour of Code session, they also provided eight Xbox Gaming Kits. They were incredible in jumping in to support the event at the last minute. Students had the opportunity to select from a variety of popular Xbox titles. The students were excited to play the latest edition of Forza Motorsport 7, which was by far the most popular game at the station. About 50 girls came through the Xbox station to learn, play and explore. One girl even said that she couldn’t wait until the new Xbox One X comes out, so she can play with her siblings!

Photo Booth via Intelligent Kiosk on the Surface Hub

The Microsoft Technology Center Silicon Valley loaned us their mobile Surface Hub for the event, and ran the Microsoft Intelligent Kiosk as a Photo Booth for the girls to experience. The girls had the opportunity to learn about AI, Machine Learning, and the Microsoft Cognitive Services APIs.  The Surface Hub had a crowd of girls around it throughout the station portion of the event.

Thank you to all who made this event a success, including the Palo Alto Retail Store Team, our Civic Engagement and Legal Affairs TeamOur Panelists, and US CSE.

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