SCARBOROUGH — Recognizing a need for more technology courses to inspire middle and high school-age girls, two friends have teamed up to facilitate an all-girls coding group at the local library.
Rachel McDonnell, who works in marketing for a software company and Alayna Hebert, a web developer, started talking several months ago about starting a coding course. McDonnell was searching for something community-oriented while Hebert, with a background in teaching and experience working in tech as a woman, was looking for a volunteer project.
Girls Who Code Clubs are free after-school programs for girls in grades six to 12 who want to join their peers and connect with role models to use computer science and tackle a real-world problem they care about. The nonprofit organization was founded in 2012 by Reshma Saujani. The curriculum changes each year and a series of courses with differing subjects and length of study are available.
McConnell said the course is meant to be fun and inspirational and help students develop skills to not only make friends, but figure out what they want to do with their lives. The course is team-oriented – participants collectively decide on a topic that has meaning or interests them and then develop a project based on their decision.
The course will run for 10 weeks at the Scarborough Public Library this fall from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Thursdays, Oct. 4 to Dec. 13. To sign up for the class, which will serve as an introduction to coding and will also gauge interest in the material, email email@example.com.
Chrystine Muncherian, a web designer from Portland will also be helping to facilitate the club on an as needed basis.
Hebert, 33, and McDonnell, 32, met nearly a decade ago when they worked together at a cultural exchange organization in Portland.
Hebert started in web development while in high school and studied new media at the University of Maine at Orono.
“I love working with code, and something I’ve seen in college and throughout my career is that it’s a male-dominated field, but was something I thought might change since the 10 years I’ve been out of college,” Hebert said, but added only 50 of 500 attendees at a conference earlier this year were women.
Noting there is still a significant gender gap in the technology field, Hebert said she wants to be more of a role model for the career. She explained that with the industry constantly changing and evolving, there is a need to be proactive and a willingness to learn. “If you’re not interested by college, you’re almost too far behind,” she said.
As young students, both said they would have been excited to be a part of a Girls Who Code class, but when they were enrolled in school, there weren’t many opportunities to explore engineering or technology.
McDonnell said 90,000 girls have been involved with the Girls Who Code program since it started. She said she was shocked to learn how few were offered in the area after her company, PTC, sponsored a group in Camden.
“There was no reason why we wouldn’t be able to facilitate one ourselves,” she said.
The course is designed to inspire girls and allow them to grow in an environment of their peers. The class will teach subjects like java script and app development and is designed to expose students to computer science in general, said McDonnell.
Hebert said in her own experience working in web development, she has been lucky to work with men with whom she’s had great camaraderie and was not turned away from the field. She said as a creative and analytical person, writing code to build a website is the perfect fit for her skills and interests.
McDonnell said there is a lot of focus and discussion on the fields of science, technology, engineering and math in school, but much of that coursework still centers on math and science. Technology and engineering need to become a larger part of school curricula in order to provide a well-rounded education.
Tom Corbett, the systems librarian at Scarborough Public Library, said he “jumped at the chance” to support the program, saying he was really excited when Hebert and McDonnell approached him about facilitating a group.
Corbett said a goal of the library has been to partner with the community on programming and to utilize space for teaching. Corbett has taught coding for both children and adults and is familiar with Girls Who Code. After meeting with McDonnell and Hebert, he said it was clear to him ,” they will be great teachers and motivate students.”
Rachel McDonnell and Alayna Hebert are teaching Girls Who Code on Thursdays at the Scarborough Library from Oct. 4 to Dec. 13.