Written by Carmen Fariña and Marissa Shorenstein. This article appeared on the Daily News on Friday, August 28, 2015. View the original version, here.
As a mother and a grandmother — and as women who’ve strived for success in the business and education worlds — we want our girls and young women to go out into the world knowing they can do anything. In today’s technology-driven economy, an important part of that is giving them the skills, support, and confidence to pursue education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
When we look at today’s young women, we see the next generation of software developers and electrical engineers. The challenge is starting early: 74% of middle-school girls express interest in STEM subjects, but only 0.4% of girls end up pursuing a college major in computer science.
And as we think about that challenge and start looking forward — there will be 1.4 million computer specialist job openings across our nation by 2020 — it’s time to get to work.
Here in New York City, one of the fastest growing tech and startup scenes in the world, we have a unique opportunity to expose and empower girls and young women to tech careers that once would have been culturally and professionally out of their reach.
First and foremost, that means bringing together our public and private sectors to create more STEM programs available to students of all ages, including during the summer. AT&T and the New York City Department of Education have worked on two programs aimed at improving girls’ access to hands on STEM education: New York City’s Software Engineering Pilot (SEP) and Girls Who Code.
In our SEP classrooms, middle- and high-schoolers learn programming languages, build robots, and design circuits and video games. Fifty-five percent of these students are black or Latino, and nearly half are female. And when younger girls, and students of color, see their older peers having fun and growing in SEP classrooms, those numbers are only going to grow.
This summer, with AT&T’s support, about 80 high-school SEP students put their tech skills to work — and learned what it’s like to work in an office — through “Pathfinders” internships at local businesses and nonprofit organizations across New York City. Hundreds of rising ninth-graders participated in SEP Summer Enrichment, getting a head start on the coding they’ll be doing during their high-school career — and maybe even future careers in the industry. And year-round, AT&T has supported hands-on opportunities for SEP students like hackathons and student showcases.
Meanwhile, Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization, brings together girls from various backgrounds in one classroom and, over the course of seven weeks, teaches them computer science and coding skills. Girls Who Code partners with companies like AT&T on its summer immersion program and provides the girls with the resources to learn and excel in the STEM field.
By embedding students in tech companies around the country, Girls Who Code is bringing us one step closer towards closing the gender gap in tech — and in STEM altogether.
While the Software Engineering Pilot, Girls Who Code and other programs around the city have been a success, we need even more public-private STEM partnerships that provide internships and other academic activities to empower a new generation of girls. When we share our resources and strengths, we are building a brighter future. We’re not just helping girls, or providing students with summer enrichment: We’re training the next generation of citizens and our future workforce.