Girls Just Want to Have Fun(damental) IT

May 15, 2017

Encouraging young women to explore STEM careers continues to be an important goal for many educators and non-profits. But at Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix, Arizona, all things IT are regarded with particular reverence.

Xavier College is an all-girl Diocesan school run by the Sisters of Charity. Here, programming is a graduation requirement for all students (it’s no surprise really, as Sister of Charity, Mary Kenneth Keller, was the first person to get a PhD in Computer Science back in 1965). However, efforts to engage students in all things digital continue to be a priority -- on and off campus.

It all began five years ago when the school’s respective art and computer science teachers, Frances McMahon Ward and Catherine Wyman, read the study “Why so few?” by The American Association of University Women (AAUC), which reports that, contrary to popular belief, up until ninth grade girls have just as much interest in technology as boys.

In response to this, the duo devised "Girls Have IT Day"; a initiative for local middle school girls, which sees them supported and mentored by Xavier high schoolers. The annual event takes place every March, and is attended by hundreds of girls.

The initiative has since branched out into a Girls Have IT Camp -- a week long program developed and delivered in a similar way: run for girls, by girls, who use a range of user-friendly technology to ensure everyone can get involved.

“We’re big fans of Makey Makeys, we use them a lot during the event and the camp,” says Catherine. “We’ve seen some creative and original stuff from the students. They come with some great ideas, which we encourage and nurture as best we can.”

Five years running, the tech camp week is the same cost as normal sports camps and scholarships are available. During the camp, Xavier Prep teens are the counselors. The camp director is an also alumna. “The alums are so innovative,” Wyman notes, “they come with great ideas and the near peer mentoring model really works.”

A recent report on the Girls Have IT programs shows that it’s working. A post-event survey revealed that 92% of participants were inspired to work harder in school, and that 73% wanted to participate in more extracurricular STEM activities.

Former Xavier alumna, Sarah Godbehere, now at Gonzaga University, has even put together her own outreach program called Girls Rock IT Day.

“It’s great to see students starting social enterprise endeavours of their owns,” Catherine says. “That’s how you know the peer mentoring system works, when you see women pay it forward.”

Watch Sarah’s Girls Rock IT Day promo video below.

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