DigiGirlz Cambridge MA 2009

Yesterday I attended my first DigiGirlz event. While this was my first DdigiGirlz event it was my third “career” event in three work days. And of them were different. Last Thursday was a sort of career fair with tables set up by different companies and educational institutions (colleges, universities, community colleges) at Brookline High School. Students visited each table and asked questions. Last Friday I talked to a group of middle school students about careers in computer science and demonstrated some game programming. But today I was strictly background support. The platform belonged to women and the audience (save for a few chaperones) was all female. The site was Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center (called NERD by its friends).

DigiGirlz is largely about helping girls visualize themselves in tech careers and the amazing women involved in this event left no doubt that women can and are making it in the field.

The opening keynote was by Jennifer Tour Chayes, Managing Director of Microsoft’s New England Research center. After that the girls rotated through three different breakout/workshop sessions.

The session I helped with introduced Scratch a great graphical programming environment from MIT which happens to  be very close to the research center. This gave the girls a chance to try programming in a friendly comfortable environment.

A second session was on Internet Safety /Online citizenship facilitated by danah boyd. There are not many people (if any) who know more about teens and their use of and safety on the Internet these days.

A third session was a selection of four different projects including information on robotics and design. This was an opportunity to sample a number of tech areas.

After lunch was a panel discussion of careers in science and technology.  Panelists were from Microsoft, the Museum of Science, Intangible Asset Finance, and Conover Tuttle Pace. A number of different careers and career paths to be sure. After self introductions the girls asked a variety of questions about careers, career paths and how women dealt with various obstacles along the way.

Monday’s event was attended by over 150 girls from about 25 different high schools. In some ways a drop in the bucket but in other ways, I hope, a lot of seeds were sown that will inspire a number of girls to consider careers in technology or at least college and beyond. Watching the girls work with Scratch I saw a lot of creativity and imagination. A lot of fearless experimentation and willingness to learn and to solve problems. Just what we need in this day and age.

These day long events are just one part of the larger DigiGirlz program. You can find out more at the DigiGirlz home page.

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