Garage Interns Host STEM Workshop for Big and Little Sisters

| Shannon Felton Spence, Microsoft New England Civic Tech Fellow

Early last spring, I had the privilege of meeting a team of interns at the Microsoft Garage who had dubbed themselves the “Community_Hackers.” The moniker was appropriate. This group of Bunker Hill Community College students represented a diverse cross-section of the community. The group comprised students from three different countries, ages ranging from 18 to over 30, and four of five of the students were women. One team member was a parent, another had previously worked as a nurse, and the rest of the group had come into the internship with similar varied life experiences.

At the start of their Garage internship in February, they were asked to choose from three different projects to pursue over the course of the semester. They shared with me their enthusiasm for one project: the opportunity to create and run a STEM workshop for the community. As nontraditional interns, they were determined to help other underrepresented students realize that they too could find a place in the tech community and in a company like Microsoft.

When I made their acquaintance, the group was in search of organizations to partner with on their curriculum. Immediately, Big Sister Association of Greater Boston came to mind.

Big Sister’s mission is to “ignite girls’ passion and power to succeed through positive mentoring relationships with women and enrichment programs that support girls’ healthy development.” Little Sisters are matched with Big Sisters and receive “individual nurturing, guidance, and support to become a confident, competent and caring adult.” The truth is — when Big and Little Sisters are paired in meaningful mentoring relationships, both of their lives are changed.

At Big Sister, the saying goes that girls “can’t be what they can’t see.” Therefore, it is so important to introduce young girls to positive role models and to demonstrate clear paths of success in the community in addition to their own Big Sisters. The agency offers monthly enrichment programs called “Match Activities” aimed at helping Little Sisters build skills and confidence alongside their Big Sisters. Oftentimes, this comes from new experiences through partnerships with corporations and organizations throughout Greater Boston. It was a perfect fit! I knew that the Community_Hackers would provide a fun activity for Matches that extended far beyond the classroom.

The day of the workshop, Big and Little Sisters filed into our offices at Kendall Square. They looked anxious, not quite sure what to make of the alligator clips, laptops and micro:bit sitting in front of them. However, as the workshop started, the Community_Hackers taught them step-by-step how to program the micro:bit using the MakeCode block editor. With determination and a little bit of patient help from their Big Sisters, the Littles started smiling, laughing and looking more confident as they designed their own games and programmed the micro:bit. Soon, enthusiasm and excitement took over the room. By the end of the workshop, the Littles could not wait to show off what they had learned to the Community_Hackers!

Opportunities like this remind me of the importance of community engagement, especially engaging with younger generations. The skills that Community_Hackers taught the Big and Little Sisters could perhaps spark interest in some to pursue additional coding or STEM activities. More importantly, though, it showed the Little Sisters what women in tech look like — just like them. If you can see it, you can be it!

Thank you to the Community_Hackers and the Garage for this great Match Activity. Special thank you to the Big Sisters for volunteering their time to serve as mentors to Little Sisters. And of course, thank you to the staff at Big Sister Association of Greater Boston for providing these opportunities and serving thousands of girls in our community each year.

Kristen Laird, member of Community_Hackers, contributed to this post. 

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