Forty students from Abraham Lincoln High School, Thomas Jefferson High School and Kirn Middle School participated in a Mary Poppins Coding Party for girls Thursday at AMC Theater Council Bluffs 17.
The event, part of Google’s Made With Code Program, was designed to encourage girls to get involved in coding activities and consider a career in technology.
By 2020, there will be 1.4 million new openings for computer science majors but only about 400,000 people who are qualified for those jobs, said Dan Harbeke, head of public policy and external affairs for Google in Council Bluffs. Despite the demand, the number of women studying computer science has actually decreased in recent years.
“We want to do anything and everything we can to increase the number of girls getting involved in computer science, and one way to do that is making it enjoyable and showing them the career path,” he said.
The coding party, one of only four of its kind held in the nation, included a free meal, remarks by Google employees and State Sen. Dan Dawson, a coding activity with guidance from Google professionals, and a free screening of the movie “Mary Poppins Returns,” which won’t be introduced to the public for two more weeks, Harbeke said.
“We want to give you the building blocks to build a better future,” Dawson said.
Sumer Mohammed, a software engineer at Google’s San Francisco location, described some of her work on the company’s Smart Home Team. The team works on software that enables homeowners to control their lights and other devices in their homes with voice commands.
“I love that I can take something that didn’t exist before and take some tools and make it,” she said.
Mohammed said she started college intending to go into chemical engineering but became interested in programming after her dad made her take a computer science course as a freshman. Now, she is helping with Google’s campaign to attract more women to tech careers.
“We need way more women in the field,” she said.
For the coding activity, the girls created snowflake patterns using graphics from Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns.”
Denise Hoag, business and computer science teacher at Thomas Jefferson, said she thinks reaching down to middle school students with coding activities has started some girls thinking more about it.
“Probably 15 percent of my computer science students are girls,” she said. “But five years ago, it was zero. I think they’re realizing how creative it can be.”
Debra Robinson, business and computer science teacher at Abraham Lincoln, said she doesn’t get very many girls in her CISCO Networking Academy classes. That’s unfortunate, because women tend to be good problem-solvers, she said.
“For most of the females, when they’re involved in my tech class, a lot of them outperform the males,” she said.
Alysa Arthur, a freshman at Thomas Jefferson, is on a robotics team that just got accepted for a competition at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. She likes to build and program robots.
“My older brother did it most of his high school, so I got into it,” she said.
In addition, her mother happens to be one of the coaches.
Alysa said she thinks she will pursue a career in a computer-related field.
“I don’t think I could ever leave it,” she said. “I think I would like something like that where it’s always changing and you have to keep up with it.”
Kylee Koenig, a freshman at Abraham Lincoln, is one of two girls on a six-member Cyber Patriot team that will participate in an online competition today, she said.
“I like to be able to get into software and see how everything’s put together and how it works,” she said.
Kylee enjoyed Thursday’s coding activity.
“It was neat to be able to get in and see the code,” she said.
Kylee wants to go into cyber security. She tells her friends about her team’s activities and said some of them might take computer classes when they’re older.
Kaylei Jo Westcott, another A.L. freshman, said she is interested in a computer-related field but that most girls think it is a boy thing.
Taylor Wilson, an A.L. junior, programs robots for one of the teams.
“I like that it’s not necessarily subjective,” she said. “If I make a program, it either makes the robot do something or it doesn’t.”
Taylor, too, said she thinks girls see computer science as male-dominated.
Despite her interest in programming, she plans to go into biomedical engineering.