CABOT A gender gap exists in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) career fields — but not for long, if these girls can help it.
Danielle Lovellette, an engineering teacher at Cabot High School, started a Girls Who Code chapter at the school this year with a mission in mind.
It’s important to encourage girls to go for it when it comes to engineering and technology, she said, because it helps build confidence.
Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology, she explained, because there aren’t currently many girls going into the field.
“It’s about 5 years old, and Reshma Saujani founded the organization,” Lovellette said. “They have about 50,000 girls who have gone through their program now. We’re brand new, this is our first year doing the club here, and we’ve had three meetings so far.”
Lovellette said the club meets once a week after school and has about seven students involved, but the club is growing.
“It gives the girls a safe place to experiment with computer science, coding and programming — it really helps them build their confidence. They can just talk to each other and build together,” she said.
“So many studies show that once girls hit around eighth grade, that puberty line, their confidence plummets,” Lovellette said. “Having these places, these clubs that they can go to and really shine — it really builds up their confidence.”
Lovellette said girls bring a different perspective to the technology field, and that variety will benefit everyone in the long run.
Cabot High School offered one computer science class last year but has jumped to offering nine classes this year as a result of a large amount of student interest in the classes.
“So many kids are interested in it. They had to turn away kids last year because we didn’t have the teachers and staff. There are just more opportunities for them now,” she said.
Classes offered at Cabot High School include Intro to Programming, Intro to Engineering and Design, Principals of Engineering, Digital Electronics, Advanced Placement Computer Science Principals and AP Computer Science.
Nicole Hartsel, a senior at Cabot High School, recently attended an event hosted by Girls Who Code and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. with Lovellette and sophomore Miranda Thomson in Bentonville.
It was a kickoff event as Wal-Mart became a sponsor for Girls Who Code, Lovellette said, and the club was invited because they are one of very few GWC chapters in Arkansas.
Hartsel said she and Thomson spoke to hundreds of middle school girls from 14 schools with Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin onstage at the event.
“When he asked us about our female [STEM] role models, we actually said we didn’t have any because guys got us interested in doing this,” she said.
“Girls were coming up and asking us to sign their [Girls Who Code] books,” Hartsel said, smiling, “and we got to talk to a lot of them who were surprised to learn that there weren’t many girls in the field. You could tell that it really got them thinking about the STEM field.”
Hartsel said the club is a great way to encourage girls who might not currently be in technology-related classes to consider taking them next year.
Hannah Tauriello, junior and GWC club member at Cabot High School, said the club is important to her because girls need more female role models in the technology field.
“It shows that women can do anything,” she said. “Some girls think they’re not smart enough and they can’t do it, but you can if you put your mind to it.”
Hartsel said it’s important for girls to get involved in computer science because many future jobs will require related skills.
“That’s where the future is going. Jobs will have coding in them, and it opens up a lot of opportunities,” Hartsel said. “If you can make your own program on the computer, you’re able to sell those ideas and market yourself better. There’s no girls in the field, so you need to be the role model for the kids who are coming up.”
Tauriello said it’s important for girls to not let the fear of failure prevent them from trying to go into the STEM field.
The world will continue to become more technologically advanced, she said, and women could do great things with the job opportunities.
Hartsel said she plans to go to college for cybersecurity and networking, while Tauriello is undecided about her college path but said she knows it will be something technological.
“If you’re interested in something, do it, no matter what anyone else says. Pursue it, and don’t let others make decisions for you,” Tauriello said.
“Just don’t be afraid to try it. It’s OK to fail because you can always try again and fix it,” Hartsel said.
It’s important for girls to stick together, persevere and not be intimidated, she added.
Lovellette said girls need to have grit and keep following their dreams, no matter what.
“I know how it feels. All through college, it was me and all of these boys,” she said. “I love telling people I was a mechanical engineer — I’m proud of that. People admire you for that, and I think it’s such an amazing feeling. I’d love for all of my girls to have that same type of feeling.”
Staff writer Kayla Baugh can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.