Elementary girls learn to program with retired Intel engineer
On Wednesday, March 7, a group of 10 fourth- and fifth-grade girls worked on a project in their classroom at W. Verne McKinney Elementary School.
But it wasn't reading or writing the girls were working on.
They were learning to write computer code.
For the past two weeks, the girls have been taking in an after-school class aimed at getting young girls interested in science and math.
For years, the Hillsboro School District has incorporated more and more science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs into classrooms to open student's eyes to the opportunities and encourage kids to pursue a career in sciences.
One such program, "Girls Engage Technology," aims to get more young women interested in the field.
Known as GET, the free program was started in 2015 by Saturday Academy to address the gender disparity in the tech industries, said program designer Barbara Miner. It is sponsored by the American Association of University Women.
The number of girls getting degrees in computer science today is lower than it was in the 1980s, when Miner was in school, she said.
"It makes my head explode," Miner said. "The goal is to get (girls introduced) before middle school. Before they've decided they don't like technology or (have developed) some idea that it's for boys."
During the class, local young girls are introduced to computer programming by coming up with their own creative stories and learning how to code it, Miner said. Students use a program called "Scratch," developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to produce these stories.
Miner, the program's primary instructor, is a retired chemical engineer who spent 25 years at Intel.
"The idea is that we are just a little room with women of all ages having fun creating technology," Miner said.
Over the last several years, Hillsboro has quickly become the technology-dominant sector of the metro area, Miner said, with companies like Intel, SolarWorld and others spread across the fast-growing city. With this growing field come many open positions.
Now, officials at those companies are wondering whether enough local students are being prepared or introduced to the opportunities in the tech field when thinking about their own career path.
While the program is hosted by a professional in the tech field like Miner, local teenagers help teach each class. The idea is that young students will be able to relate and look up to a teenager better, and the teen also gets to be viewed as a "competent and capable" expert.
"These girls are in fourth and fifth grade and I can talk about how I'm an engineer and engineering is a good career, but they aren't really thinking about careers, but they might be thinking about being in high school," Miner said. "So they react to teenagers just in a different way."
Miner is enthusiastic about providing opportunities to young girls in hopes of "filling the gap" for females in the industry, she said.
"If people are exposed to things, they find out what they like," Miner said. "Girls use technology at the same rate as boys, but they don't create it. And it's not because they can't."
GET has served more than 800 girls in the Portland metro area so far.
"It's really amazing what the kids can do when given the resources," Miner said.
By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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