Girls Who Code Yield Women in STEM

| Shelley Stern Grach

Girls Who Code Yield Women in STEM

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a great non-profit: Girls Who Code. Girls Who Code was founded in 2012 and focuses on closing the gender gap in computing fields. Mobilizing leading executives, educators, and engineers, Girls Who Code developed a new model of computer science education designed to inspire, educate, and equip girls with the skills to succeed in the field.

This month, I was asked—along with 15 other Chicagoland women at Microsoft–to participate in 1:1 discussions with the Girls Who Code students. The topics focused on our personal career paths and how we arrived at our current positions. We also discussed the students’ post-graduation plans, their ideal career paths before and after Girls Who Code, how computer science can be applicable to most careers, and provided ideas on colleges with strong computer science programs and opportunities for women.

I had the pleasure of speaking with two wonderful young ladies, who were at different high schools, and in different grades (therefore at different stages of considering colleges). Interestingly, while they were very similar in their strong interest in computer science and engineering, their academic focus was different and their clarity on next steps for college was different. I had an opportunity to provide some positive reinforcement to help keep them on their path. We discussed candidly how difficult the STEM courses were—although one young lady said that math was easier for her than English, and we discussed the need to be able to clearly communicate, orally and in writing, her ideas and recommendations as she moved forward in her career. The other student attended a high school where I knew one of the administrators, so I made the email introduction after the event. The student’s enthusiastic response really made my day! “Wow, that’s great news, thank you for letting me know! I will definitely contact him in the fall; I would love to speak with him about STEM outreach.”

Another young lady is interested in applying to Georgetown—where my own daughter recently attended and received her Master’s degree in Physiology, a STEM field. I turned on the “Mom charm” and gave her a thorough observation of life at Georgetown, taking advantage of DC and the East Coast and what the overall experience might be like. I received the following lovely thank you note: “Thank you so much for talking to me about Georgetown and college in general. I felt like we covered a lot of ground and I really loved hearing all the stories you told me. Even though I am only a rising junior, any information and advice on my education is something I am very thankful for.” Another moment where I felt that as the mentor, I received all the benefit!

Here are a few things that I learned during my sessions:

  • No amount of time is too small to make a positive impact on a student. Even a 15-20 minute discussion can help keep the path to STEM clear and achievable.
  • Each student is at a different place and any small amount of guidance and reinforcement is important.
  • These girls are aiming high. College is very important—one young lady will be the first in her family to attend college and she is looking for adult mentors to be role models in her application process.
  • The Girls Who Code program is touching all aspects of their pathway to STEM careers. The most obvious is the technical training and experiences. The longer lasting impact is the opportunity to learn from adults who are currently in the STEM field.

Congratulations to all the Girls Who Code in Chicago and to the wonderful Microsoft Technology Center and Community team members how are supporting our future STEM Leaders!

To learn more about Microsoft’s commitment to youth and education, visit our YouthSpark Hub or follow us on twitter at @msftcitizenship.

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Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.