Girls Who Code carries on amid pandemic The Chandler Arizonan

Girls Who Code carries on amid pandemic

Girls Who Code carries on amid pandemic
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By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

Anika Attaluri already has a plan in place to keep her school’s coding club up and running if and when classes resume on Aug. 17.

The Hamilton High School senior will be spending the first quarter of this school year learning from home – an option afforded to students worried about the COVID-19 – and intends to have the members of her club, Girls Who Code, stay productive by hosting their meetings online.

In the midst of Arizona’s campus reopening debate, extracurriculars and club activities haven’t always been at the forefront of the conversation.

Chandler Unified School District officials have said they will try to reconfigure extracurricular activities to meet social-distancing guidelines, yet it’s not clear to Anika how a club like hers factors into the equation.

Anika decided to take the initiative and begin planning her tech club’s operation during the upcoming semester. She said she’ll teach the computer coding curriculum over video-conferencing software like Zoom and offer one-on-one mentoring sessions through FaceTime for her club’s 30 members.    

It probably won’t be as stimulating as working in-person with her team of coders, the teenager acknowledged, yet it’s better than not coding at all.

“It’s harder to build those relationships virtually,” she said.

Anika considers it essential for Girls Who Code to continue offering a chance for young women to explore their scientific curiosities.

The pandemic is not going to stop them from building a community of female coders and scientists, she said.   

When the COVID-19 crisis abruptly forced Anika to cancel a coding camp, she had been planning to offer this summer, she quickly rebounded and found a way to still provide some programming from the confines of her bedroom.

She has spent the past couple months tutoring a handful of students through live video chats, guiding them virtually through complex algorithms and coding structures.

The one-on-one sessions wound up being an enjoyable distraction from the turmoil taking place in Arizona this summer, she said.

No one quite knows what the future or upcoming school year will look like, Anika said, but Girls Who Code is committed to maintaining a presence in the community.

The Hamilton High chapter is part of a national organization aimed at closing the noticeable gender gap that’s long existed in science-based industries. The nonprofit provides guidance to thousands of clubs across the country and hopes its efforts will result in women taking up half of all entry-level tech jobs by 2027.

Women currently make up about 28 percent of the country’s science and engineering workforce, according to the National Science Board, and that rate shrinks even more for African-American, Hispanic, and Native American women.

In 2015, women earned only 18 percent of the country’s undergraduate degrees in computer sciences and 20 percent of the nation’s engineering degrees.

Anika said she discovered this gender disparity at a young age while attending science camps at the Chandler Public Library.

Whenever the class was told to break up into groups, she recalled, the boys instantly hung together and made little effort to include any of the few girls enrolled in the class.

They were made to feel like the “leftovers,” she said – deemed worthy enough to work alongside the boys.

Anika hoped to boost the confidence of aspiring female scientists on a local level by introducing a chapter of Girls Who Code at Hamilton High a couple years ago.

The goal was to not only help close the gender gap, she said, but demonstrate to young women the relevancy and value of pursuing a career in STEM-related fields.   

“I wanted to show how getting involved in tech can be fun and it can be used to solve issues that people care about,” she said.

Her members spend the school year working on coding projects that serve a specific need in the community. Members work off of a general theme – such as entertainment or health – that is decided on by the whole group. The girls then branch out to find a project that matches their interests.

Previous projects have involved a phone app that helps users find food banks in their neighborhoods and the creation of online games that challenge a player’s nutritional knowledge.

“We allow a lot of flexibility as to what the project can be to ensure we don’t restrict our participants’s skill level or interests,” Anika said.

In addition to the service projects, Girls Who Code dedicates time to learning about women who have successfully pioneered the STEM fields and invite experts to lecture in front of the club’s members.

Part of the club’s mission is to mold its members into becoming role models for their younger peers, Anika noted, so that new members feel like they belong to a sisterhood.

“It’s a pretty supportive and inclusive club,” she added, “and it provides a strong, supportive network to our members.”

Local students interested in learning more about Girls Who Code can email gwchamilton@gmail.com.

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