Closing the Gap: CS Students Teach Girls to Code

It takes committment to end one of the most persistent gender disparities in the American economy. Each Thursday, at 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., a few female students from Bowdoin head over to Brunswick High School to offer free coding classes to girls interested in picking up additional computer skills. They have to catch the busy high school students before their first class or after their last.

The Bowdoin students are part of Bowdoin Women in Computer Science, a campus club that this fall launched the first fully fledged Girls Who Code program here. The curriculum is based on the national Girls Who Code organization. Initial planning for the course began last year, when Amanda Milloy ’17 and Grace Mallett ’18 started putting the program into place at the high school.

Both Milloy and Mallett worked for Girls Who Code before creating a local spin-off at Brunswick High, and Milloy said she praised the organization for making a difference.  “Because boys are more socialized to adopt programming at a young age, it’s easy to get to college and feel like you’re already too far behind,” she said, via a Facebook message. “I certainly felt that way at times. That’s why it’s so important to reach girls early and show them how exciting/attainable computer science can be.”

In 2016, Mallett worked as a TA in Boston for a seven-week Girls Who Code immersion program. “I became very passionate about the goal of getting more women into tech,” she said. And she was inspired her to start her own high school club when she returned to Bowdoin.

Now that Milloy has graduated, Mallett and Bolor-Erdene Jagdagdorj ’19 are co-leading the Girls Who Code program this year with the help of a small team of volunteers: Erika Kiem ’20, Felicia Wang ’20, Damini Singh ’20, and Rebecca Berman ’20.

Jagdagdorj said she’s heard from many female computer science majors at Bowdoin that they were not introduced to the field until they got to college. She herself was just one of two girls in her first computer science class in high school. “It’s important to get girls interested in computer science and to get rid of that fear of, I don’t know if I want to do this, or, I don’t know if I’ll be good at this,” she said. “I think it can be hard to be in a whole big class of guys and you’re the only female in there, which at Bowdoin we’re really lucky to not have so much.”

The Girls Who Code course will continue through the year, with the high school girls first learning more basic coding formats, like Scratch, before progressing to more advanced coding languages, including Python and JavaScript, according to Mallett. The students will finish the year by doing a community capstone project.

“A big goal we have is to create a meaningful community project with the skills we teach them,” Mallett said, such as building a website for a local nonprofit. “Something they’re passionate about and something that will help the community.”

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