‘Girls Who Code’ club strives for gender equity in computer science

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Story by Lindsey Coleman, Staff writer


The Murray Girls Who Code Club visited associate professor Robert Pilgrim’s class on May 1 to meet computer science students and to cultivate their interest in technology.

Middle school girls in the club observed a computer graphics and game programming class in which teams of college students build games.

Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit that seeks to close the gender gap in the technology field. They have clubs and summer immersion programs for girls to learn more about coding.

Pilgrim said 25 percent of students in his classes are women, and he said there should be more gender equity in the technologies.

“The technologies, and computer science in particular, have a hard time drawing women into the major,” Pilgrim said. “I’m not sure why, because they always end up being in the top of their class.”

Ginny Kelley, web coordinator at Murray State’s Kentucky Academy of Technology Education, is the facilitator of the Girls Who Code program. She graduated from Murray State in 2004 with degrees in math and computer science.

Kelley started Calloway County’s arm of Girls Who Code last year. Since the club’s formation, six to 10 girls have been involved each year, and one boy last year. It is free and open to students in sixth through 12th grade from any school in the area. She said most of her students are in middle school at Calloway County Middle School, Murray Middle School and Eastwood Christian Academy.

They meet for two hours a week with the goal of completing 40 hours of curriculum that teaches four fundamentals of computer science: variables, loops, conditionals and functions. Kelley said they typically meet in Alexander Hall on campus, but they also take field trips. She said a few weeks ago, they visited the 3D printing labs on campus.

“Getting them started at middle school age helps them to remember that this is an option,” Kelley said. “Maybe they’ll come back in high school or college and continue to stay in coding.”

In addition to the coding curriculum, Kelley said they do some bonding and sisterhood activities to get to know each other and to meet other role model women in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Kelley said.

Kiera Taylor, seventh grader, and Isolde Menchinger, sixth grader, are involved in Girls Who Code and go to Murray Middle School. The girls agreed they like the way the program is targeted toward girls.

Taylor said in her two years at Girls Who Code, she learned teamwork is the key.

“I like that women are going into these fields,” Taylor said. “I encourage all those girls out there to be who they want to be and do what they want to do.”

Menchinger started this year. She said she learned how to code for the first time ever and made more friendships

“It’s pretty cool,” Menchinger said. “I know women are capable of doing what men do, we’ve just been stuck in a stereotype that’s hard to break out of, but we’re doing it.”