About 50 Boulder Valley elementary and middle school girls visited Google’s Boulder campus Monday for a coding session, a panel talk and a tour.
The session, the first of three, kicked off the YWCA Boulder County‘s new STEM E3 (Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship) program. The goal is to increase access to computer science and artificial intelligence education for 9- to 14-year-old girls of color.
“Look around you,” Debbie Pope, CEO of YWCA Boulder County, told the students. “This is your support network. All of us here are your cheerleading team. You belong here.”
The YWCA Boulder County was one of the first two YWCA branches in the country chosen by Google to pilot and launch a STEM program. The other is Los Angeles.
Google, which gave the Boulder County branch a $175,000, three-year grant, is sharing $2 million over three years among 15 YWCA branches around the country. Boulder County and Los Angeles are tasked with creating a program that can be replicated at the other sites.
The YWCA worked with Google’s CSFirst curriculum and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation on the curriculum for the pilot program. The Boulder Valley School District and Longmont Child and Family Youth
Services are helping recruit students.
Shauna Polson, Boulder Valley coordinator of equity and partnerships, said many of the girls recommended for the program miss technology instruction because they’re in support classes as they learn English as a second language or are at schools that offer limited computer science options.
“It’s all about access and equity,” she said.
After the three sessions at Google this fall, the YWCA plans to invite about 100 of the most interested students to take part in a weekly program starting in January at several sites.
Lauren Lambert, Google’s head of external affairs for the southwest, said girls who aren’t interested in STEM by high school generally don’t ever get interested.
“It’s important to get young girls engaged as soon as possible,” she said. “We can support the YWCA in these efforts.”
At Monday’s Google session, the students used the Scratch block coding program to animate their names or another word, changing the letter colors and adding backgrounds, sound and motion. One student created a game where letters need to be caught, another created an animated soccer scene.
Elias Ortiz, a software programmer who works at LogRhythm, led the students through the coding with the help of two women from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation.
“Coding is just like teaching a baby to walk,” he said. “You have to guide it step by step.”
Aylin Arellano Mata, a fifth grader at Boulder’s Crest View Elementary, said she tried coding in fourth grade during an Hour of Code event at her school.
“I liked coding and want to try it again,” she said.
Jocelyn Bucher, an eighth grader at Boulder’s Centennial Middle School, said she signed up for the workshop because she finds coding interesting.
“If you’re able to code or decode anything, it could actually help you a lot in life,” she said.
Centennial sixth grader Jessica Fraire Padilla said she didn’t really like Scratch when she first tried it. But, after attending an after-school class on coding, “now I really love it.”
“I really like coding and, when I grow up, I really want to work at Google,” she said. “People here want to encourage us to do coding so we can do whatever we want to do.”
After the coding exercise, the students heard from Google employees, took tours — trying out the Gondola office spaces, the video game room and the hanging chair lounge —- and then ate dinner at Google with their families.
During the employee panel, the students’ questions included how Google started, what each panelist does at the company and what their dream jobs would be if they didn’t work at Google.
When asked about the best advice she received, Keny Cuéllar Martin talked about her family moving to the United States from El Salvador when she was young. Her parents, she said, “went from having big fancy jobs to not,” but continued to share how much they valued education.
“No matter your circumstances, what you learn in school will follow you,” said Cuéllar Martin, a Google user care program manager. “Nobody can take that away from you.”