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Want To See More Women in the Sciences? Start Teaching Young Girls How to Code.

Let’s change the “brogrammer” culture. #projectliteracy

This Girls Learning Code event taught girls about electricity and circuits, partially using Arduino code. Image via Flickr user Beakerhead (Brett Morrison) (cc).

There's long been a scarcity of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, particularly in the United States. But in an increasingly tech-connected global society, programs that promote female STEM literacy alongside more traditional courses—encouraging girls to equate scientific discovery with learning of any kind, including reading and writing—must often take place outside traditional educational venues.


Although women constitute more than half the population, only 26 percent of college-educated women with STEM degrees go on to hold jobs in that field, and women hold only 24 percent of STEM jobs in total, according to National Census data. As more girls grow up in a digital age, and greater awareness exposes society’s gender inequities, a rising tide of women and girls are programming their way into the future.

Jean MacDonald, a Portland-based software developer and founder of App Camp for Girls, recalls the first time she attended Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), one of more than 5,000 attendees. While in a session of approximately 1,000 participants, she scanned the room. “From where I was sitting, I couldn’t see another woman,” she says. “I was shocked.”

In an attempt to generate more STEM interest from girls, MacDonald drew on her background as a teacher at a rock ’n’ roll summer camp in Portland, Oregon, to create App Camp for Girls. “Our mission is to offer this fun, educational program for girls in an accessible and accepting environment, with the goal that there will be gender equality in software development,” she says.

At App Camp, the girls work in teams of four with a female mentor. They are given an iPod touch to use for the week and brainstorm with their teams. At the end of the week, the girls present their apps to a panel of female entrepreneurs in a pitch session.

“I thought if we could show girls that it’s actually a lot of fun to make software, and not beyond their abilities, that by the end of a week of camp they could have something tangible to show off."

Boys might still dominate technology classes, but, as MacDonald points out, “there are a lot of smart girls out there interested in math and science.”

One such girl found herself surprised to enjoy computer science classes at her California high school. Makena McElroy, a high school junior, assumed she would focus on theater and public health in college. After taking an advanced placement computer science class, though, she’s reconsidering her college goals. “I would like to double-major in computer science,” she says.

McElroy is one of only two girls in her computer science class. “I like solving problems that seem really intricate,” she says. “It’s a thrill when you actually figure it out for yourself.”

But she has struggled with being the minority gender. “When I’m in class with all these boys I feel that there’s stuff I don’t know about the computer parts and servers because people don’t teach girls about computers. There’s this culture of ‘brogrammers’ who know everything about computers and I don’t feel connected to that, though I love developing.”

These scenarios don’t surprise Nilanjana Dasgupta, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, given her expertise on gender equity in the sciences. She points out that from an early age, boys are given more opportunities to tinker with objects in ways that lead naturally to an affinity for STEM subjects. “The typical finding in studies is that mothers often interpret high performance in math in their sons as indication of talent, but in their daughters as working very hard, interpreted as you mustn’t be as good,” she says. She adds that a parent’s confidence in a child’s abilities is a better indicator of the child’s later-in-life success than the child’s own actual strengths. In other words: Children internalize their parents’ beliefs about their skills, and this stretches into adulthood.

A group of women in Iowa City, Iowa, are working hard to overcome these ingrained notions and teaching themselves technology skills to stay current and competitive. More than two years ago, Andrea Flemming, a librarian and technology consultant, joined forces with friends to start a Meetup group called Iowa Tech Chicks. Each monthly meeting showcases a different presenter focusing on a specific skill. The group also takes field trips to tech companies and sponsors a Girls Tech Career Day for girls in grades 5-8. “You just can’t avoid technology no matter what field you’re in now,” Flemming says.

Since the group’s inception, its diverse collection of women, many of them small business owners, have taught one another a variety of skills and computer programs, from Python, which helps simplify programming languages, to Arduino, a programmable software that can control things like a sprinkler system, to Git—which allows the installation of small circuits like those that Flemming is attempting to sew into materials.

What makes the Tech Chicks’ group so successful, Flemming says, is “having hands-on concrete projects. We might say, ‘Hey, you draw or sew, so here’s a way to use Google SketchUp to turn a drawing you did into a tech skill that’s in demand.’ You can create some magic and snowball from there. We make it not so intimidating.”

Female STEM literacy has wider implications than just self-improvement. Becoming tech literate makes women more employable and is good for the economy. A report from the National Center for Women & Information Technology states that tech companies with more women on their management teams have a 34 percent greater return on investment, and women in STEM jobs make on average 33 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts.

Dasgupta suggests that the answer to getting girls more excited in STEM is not only to start their education in the field as early as possible, but also to broaden tech literacy to other areas—for example, combining computing and the visual arts. She also emphasizes the importance of promoting an attitude of mastery versus talent, for both girls and boys, and treating STEM subjects as inherently achievable to anyone through discipline.

For adults who are trying to dip their toes in the tech waters, Flemming says, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That is one of the skills of being in any STEM field: to be constantly curious.”

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.





Culture
Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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