Wanted: More girls in high tech

After their first week of coding class, 20 high school girls taught their robots to dance to The Cupid Shuffle. Cupid chanted, “To the right to the right to the right,” and the little red robots turned right. He sang “To the left to the left to the left,” and the robots turned left. But it wasn’t the song the robot was following, it was the instructions the girls wrote out in code to match the song.

During a seven-week summer course put on by the national organization Girls Who Code and hosted by Florida International University, the students conferred with each other as they puzzled out solutions and wrote lines of code at the front of the classroom so the others could follow their logic, then in small groups, tested their results on the robots.

In the robotics lab at Florida International University's School of Computing, Taty Graesser, 15, of Cutler Bay, center, and Riya Srivastava, 16, of Miami, right, prepare to write code to tell their robot how to move. They attended an intensive computer skills summer immersion program presented by Florida International University's School of Computing and Information Sciences and Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization that equips girls with computing skills. 

That high school juniors and seniors studying computers wasn’t unusual. What made this class different was that it was aimed at giving girls more confidence in what remains an overwhelmingly male, and sometimes hostile, field — one that trails engineering, medicine and most other sciences in opening career doors for young women.

Less than 20 percent of bachelor degrees in computer science are conferred on women, even though they make up 57 percent of students who earn bachelors degrees and half of the students who earn a degree in the sciences overall. That is reflected in the workforce, where only 26 percent of computer and math jobs are held by women. Educators are only now beginning to address issues that start when kids are very young.

“Have we noticed a gender gap? Absolutely,” said Cristian Carranza, a director in the Office of Academics and Transformation of Miami-Dade schools, which in the fall will begin adding computer science to classroom work for students as early as kindergarten. “We struggle with that ... That has been the battle for everybody.”

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