Girls Who Code participants test their skills

Seven week camp educates and equips high school females with computing skills for 21st century jobs.

An hour into a visit to the AT&T Global Network Operations Center, tenth grader Kyra Cousins already had her future job picked out.

“In AT&T, they have underwater wires and people go out there and fix them when they’re broken, and that sounded like an interesting career to me because I’m fond of working in computer programming, however, I’m not fond of sitting behind a desk all day,” said Cousins.

That’s exactly what coordinators for the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program want to hear. Twenty high school students from the New Jersey and New York area participate in a site visit to AT&T in Bedminster with the national nonprofit organization, Girls Who Code. It offers programs to educate and equip high school females with the computing skills they need for 21st century jobs.

“During the seven-week camp, students learn the fundamentals, everything from robotics to building a web page. They take field trips like this one to expose them to the tech industry and meet women in the field” Girls Who Code Teaching Assistant Lucie le Blanc said. “I think it’s really important for them to see different places where they could work and different positions they could have because sometimes we only get to see one aspect of working at a company. But I think it’s important to see if they end up in engineering roles or management roles, because all of those can be traced back to computer science in some way and all those positions are attainable for them. So, I think it’s important for them to see what options they have.”

On this trip, they’re seeing the inner workings of one of the nation’s largest communication companies. GNOC, to which it’s referred, monitors network activity around the world, and there are thousands of programs that make it possible.

“It’s actually really cool because we’re learning about coding in a way I’ve never learned it before, so it’s really cool and I’m really happy I got the chance to do this,” eleventh grader Nava Levene-Harvell said.

“I think that one of the things I see as a parent with older kids is how young girls start out so interested and engaged in science and how that drops off in the middle school and high school years,” Assistant Vice President of Inventive Science at AT&T.Kathy Meier-Hellstern said. “I think a program like this is essential for keeping that interest going and making them feel like they have a community they can belong to and they can do it.”

Meier-Hellstern participated in a panel discussion alongside two other female executives from AT&T to talk about their career paths and challenges along the way while mentoring.

“I have had times where I was the only woman in the room and we need to learn techniques to make ourselves heard in audiences where we’re the only women and that’s a common thing we have to deal with. And not all environments are female friendly in big companies, especially when you get interacting with the outside world and we need techniques to make ourselves heard and be taken seriously,” Meier-Hellstern said.

Dongyu Lin is a principal inventive scientist with AT&T.

“I think it’s important to have such a program to let the girls interested in STEM to know there are a whole group of people out there doing STEM every day for their life. It’s interesting to do it, it’s great to pursue a career in STEM,” Lin said.

Levene-Harvell says the camp has encouraged her to do just that.

“It really makes me feel like I can be a part of STEM or STEAM because there’s a deficit of women in those fields, especially now. And I feel like it’s important that girls feel like they can do whatever it is in all fields of work and that includes coding, so this is just reinforcement for that,” she said.

The girls will end the summer immersion program with a two-week final project. Organizers say it’s more about building a community than coding, so that one day women in STEM will be viewed as the norm, not the exception.