Photo from the 2017 International Women’s Day Celebration, by Alex Kang

Bringing girls into the boys’ club of coding

By MARISA MATA, Student Writer

“Everyone knows the STEM field, especially the tech field, is male dominated. There must be some reason for that, and I’m sure it starts very early — even though there are so many female students, only 30 percent are participating [in our Tournament of Technology], it should be 50–50. There must be a reason why they don’t participate. If the reason is lack of confidence, I want to change that,” said Saori Jansen (2008, ‘11), co-founder and director of CoderGirlz, an after school club in Fresno Unified School District that teaches girls how to code.

Jansen speaking about her work with CoderGirlz, by Alex Kang

Jansen (2008, ’11) came up with the idea of CoderGirlz in October 2015, after reading various articles about encouraging young girls to go into STEM and being reminded of her own experience with math. After coordinating with her technology team at Fresno Unified and finding teachers willing to be club advisors, Jansen officially launched CoderGirlz in December 2015.

“We started with four middle schools and one high school, and now we have [14 chapters]. We have elementary CoderGirlz and more middle schools and more high schools. We’re hoping that by August we have more schools that join us.”

In addition to making CoderGirlz a space for girls to learn about coding, Jansen wants it to be a place where girls can envision a future for themselves in technology.

“When I meet any female software developers, I take them to schools to talk to the students. Sometimes they feel like, ‘yeah, we’re doing CoderGirlz but in reality there would only be guys.’ It helps them to see themselves 15 years from now and think, ‘I can be her.’”

Jansen recently took CoderGirlz students from Edison High School to the 2017 International Women’s Day Celebration, hosted by Women Techmakers Fresno, at the Bitwise Stadium in Downtown Fresno, where she was one of three panelists speaking about getting more girls into STEM and different ways for the community to support them. Jansen spoke specifically about her work with CoderGirlz.

“There’s a bias that starts when a parent gives a child a doll instead of an airplane. And it builds up all the way to job applications and careers…and some girls are bullied because they want to code. I can’t change the mass media, but maybe I can start something with my work at Fresno Unified. Of course girls see all the media stuff 24/7, but at school they can get the message that STEM is for girls too, which is what my math professor did for me.”

Image from Girls Who Code

“I grew up in Japan and loved math until I started precalculus in high school. I went from being top of the class to barely passing. My parents didn’t know how to help me, they just said not to pursue math in college.”

“I started college in Japan, majoring in business. When I came to the United States I had to take an intermediate algebra course. My professor at Fresno City College told me I was actually good at math, I just had to try harder. And I did. And I started to really enjoy math again. I changed my major to mathematics and got my Bachelors and Masters in mathematics at Fresno State.”

Photo from CoderGirlz session at Manchester GATE

“When I look back, that was all confidence. I had confidence in math when I was younger…When I was struggling I didn’t get any support from my parents and I lost confidence in myself…Some students in Fresno Unified don’t have parental support, and if that’s why they aren’t participating in STEM activities and events, I want to try to help them and let them know there are different things [they] can do. I want to reassure them that girls are as good as boys.”

“Whenever I visit CoderGirlz, I hear the students say they love having a girls only club, especially for coding. They know that club is their place, and they’re not only having fun but also building confidence…and having coding and being surrounded with female coders makes them think, ‘I can do something more.’

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