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It’s Your World! Develop It! Powered by AT&T and WNY STEM Hub | Business

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It’s Your World! Develop It! Powered by AT&T and WNY STEM Hub
It’s Your World! Develop It! Powered by AT&T and WNY STEM Hub

Thirty nine Western New York girls are on their way to smashing through the glass ceiling of the tech and computer programing industry with the assistance of AT&T, WNY STEM Hub, SUNY Buffalo State and the Girls Scouts of Western New York, which have partnered to create and host the region’s first computer coding program exclusively for girls, It’s Your World! Develop It! Powered by AT&T, to encourage more women to enter the field of technology, specifically coding, an industry that is alarmingly male-dominant.  On Friday, July 29, the first part of the program, a coding day camp, another regional first, concluded with a video address from Megan Smith, Chief Technology Officer of the United States, former tech industry top executive and Buffalo native, congratulating the girls for achieving success in the first part of the program, encouraging them to help bridge the gender gap in the technology sector, which is a major focus of her office and the White House, and for embarking on the exciting journey of learning computer programing.

To celebrate the completion of the first part of the yearlong program the girls took part in a demo day on Friday, July 29 at SUNY Buffalo State. Community stakeholders, educators, tech industry professionals, mentors and family members were given a firsthand look at the girls’ programing and design projects created during the camp, including animated storyboards, robotic creatures performing animated antics and maneuvering mazes, and their creative web design.  The girls were also able to discuss their projects with the attendees and answer questions, while seeking feedback.

The inaugural It’s Your World! Develop It! Powered by AT&T, included 39 girls from local urban middle and high schools, including Buffalo Public Schools and Niagara Falls City Schools and various Buffalo area charter schools eager to gain coding skills and experiences over the next five months and become more engaged in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career paths.

Program participant, Maria Santos, is looking forward to being the first in her family to have a career in computer science.  In the meantime, she has plans to change the world through coding, “I want to have my own website and blog so that I can help others make their dreams come true.”

Another participant,  Iyanna Rogers,  had no experience prior to program but has since decided to pursue college studies in game design and work with others to start a coding club at her school, Math Science Technology Preparatory School.  “I’m going to be studying this a lot on my own – going on websites, reading books, doing tutorials - because I want to get a head start for college and learn more about this exciting field.”

The program started on July 18 with a two week Coding Day Camp for Girls, also a regional first, at Buffalo State’s new $36 million Technology Building, which is home to the college’s Computer Information Systems (CIS) Department. Participants learned computer coding basics and will continue throughout the rest of 2016, taking part in education programing after school and on weekends.

It’s Your World! Develop It! Powered by AT&T’s Coding Day Camp for Girls has begun connecting girls with team-based coding projects designed to make a difference in their schools and their community, while providing them hands-on experience developing their own technology. Girls were guided by mentors of local tech professionals, educators and advocates to identify and design coding solutions to create such products as apps, digital storyboards, animated movies, learning games, or basic websites. To eliminate economic barriers associated with technology, participants without computers received a free refurbished laptop computer to use as an educational tool throughout the program.

The participant’s final coding projects will culminate during a “Girls Success Code” recognition event to be held during National Computer Science Education Week in December 2016.

Coding is quickly becoming the new literacy and is the driver of all new digital technology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Department of Labor, much of the growth in the domestic and global economy will come from STEM-related jobs – a highly lucrative and competitive field. It is estimated by 2020 there will be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs with more than half made up of computer and coding careers, underscoring the importance of providing the youth the tools and skills necessary to compete in this innovation economy. The urgency for more STEM and computer science educated employees is accentuated by the low percentage of females who are currently employed at major technology firms (29 percent) and women pursuing bachelors’ degrees for computer science, just 18 percent. According to the White House, which has set forth an initiative to increase participation of girls in STEM education and career paths, women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men, and increasing opportunities for women in these fields is an important step towards realizing greater economic success and equality for women across the board. 

“We realized the need for a girl coding education program in the region when it became evident that our tactic of introducing girls to computer science professionals and careers in STEM was not having the desired success in capturing their attention and that we needed to do something innovative to engage local girls,” said WNY STEM Hub President, Michelle Kavanaugh. “It is undeniable that there is an increasing need for more woman in the robust coding sector and programs like this one, which are common in major tech hubs around the nation.

Innovative ways are needed to encourage girls to follow this career path and we are thankful for all the organizations that have collaborated to make it a reality.”

AT&T’s support for this program is part of the company’s legacy of supporting educational programs focused on STEM disciplines in New York through AT&T Aspire, the company’s signature $350 million philanthropic initiative that drives innovation in education by bringing diverse resources to bear on the issue including funding, technology, employee volunteerism and mentoring. Aspire is one of the nation’s largest corporate commitments focused on school success and workforce readiness by creating new learning environments and educational delivery systems to help students succeed and prepare them to take on 21st century careers. AT&T has given more than $103 million to support STEM initiatives since 1987. Projects supported by AT&T contributions range from after-school programs and camps for students at risk of dropping out to hands-on technology labs and elite robotics competitions.

“AT&T is proud to collaborate with these dynamic organizations to develop and support this innovative experience for girls as it further enhances our commitment to providing resources for STEM-related educational programming throughout Western New York and builds upon our vigorous efforts to bridge the gender gap in the technology industry,” said Marissa Shorenstein, New York president, AT&T. “Our economy continues to transform at a robust pace – requiring a workforce with a focus on technological education and literacy – and computer science programs like this one are vital to ensure that the students of today, despite gender, are equipped to compete in the global innovation economy of tomorrow.”

The Girl Scouts of USA report, Generation STEM, highlighted the fact that girls in urban settings often lack the family and community support systems to help them succeed in nontraditional female fields, such as computer science, and pointed out that girls are highly motivated to make a difference in their world. 

“A critical element in our programming is to provide girls with viable platforms to explore and take the lead in STEM career fields,” said Judith Cranston, CEO of Girl Scouts of Western New York.  “Collaboration is the key to help level the playing field for girls to thrive in STEM professions and we are proud to partner with WNY STEM, AT&T, Buffalo State, and others on the Girls Coding Program.”

SUNY Buffalo State is a regional leader introducing computer science to more students. For the past four years, its CIS Department has offered free summer workshops for local math and science teachers through the Computer Science for High School program, encouraging the teachers to incorporate computational concepts into the classroom in fun and relevant ways. And CIS annually hosts a showcase where middle and high school students participate in a campus computer technology competition where they receive feedback from faculty and undergraduate students. Most recently, a newly formed Women in Computing Club offered the “Hour of Code for Girls,” part of a national initiative sponsored by the nonprofit Code.org. Girls visited campus last December from high schools throughout Western New York for an evening of projects ranging from web design to java script.

“I am proud of the innovative ways our faculty reaches out to middle and high school teachers and their students to ensure that young people know about the many opportunities available to them in the STEM fields. We are excited to build upon our extensive STEM outreach through this initiative,” said Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner. “As a former Girl Scout, I am thrilled to partner with an organization known for encouraging future female leaders. Together, we have the chance to offer a cutting-edge program for girls in our community which promises to seed a new generation of creative leaders within computer science.”

A number of additional community resources and organizations have been engaged by the WNY STEM Hub to enhance the program.  Computers For Children assisted with delivery of coding instruction and providing repurposed computers.  Women coders from Girl Develop It, and professionals from local technology companies have served as role models and supplemental instructors. M&T Bank, Applied Sciences Group,

Delaware North, Synacor and Praxair all provided multiply professional coding mentors for the program. Also, last sentence, retired Science Teachers and InfoTech WNY identified volunteers for the program. In addition, members of the WNY Retired Teachers group of the Science Teachers Association helped identified educational mentors from the region.



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