November 3, 2016

Student Develops Technology Program for Middle School Girls in Ithaca

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Myra Gupta ’19 has reclaimed the meaning of “girl code” by creating an eponymous program that inspires young girls to pursue careers in the technological sciences.

Girl Code is an after school program designed for middle school girls interested in technology, according to Gupta.

The seven-week course is taught at the Southside Community Center in Ithaca, where students learn the basics of computer science through various coding exercises. Gupta said she plans to teach lessons with other volunteers, procured in conjunction with the Cornell Undergraduate Research Board.

Gupta said the organization aims to create a comfortable environment for students to learn, as well as introduce young girls to a field that is “often dauntingly male dominated.”

“The gender disparity in computer science and even more generally in the STEM fields is something I experience every day in my classes,” she said.

Gupta cited two of the biggest challenges facing women in the technical sciences today.

“First, there aren’t many women at the technology table,” she said. “This makes it hard for aspiring female technologists to see themselves pursuing certain careers. Second, often the women who are at the technology table are overshadowed or outspoken by their male counterparts.”

Girl Code addresses these challenges before girls reach the college level to head off this disparity, according to Gupta.

“I think that these problems are best solved at an early age by encouraging young girls to pursue an education and career in technology, by giving them access to a wide range of supportive mentors and by giving them the confidence to share their thoughts and ask questions,” she said.

While the program just launched in September, Gupta said the experience has been successful so far.

“It was amazing how focused and interested in the content the students were,” she said. “They wanted it to be a year-long class instead of a seven week program. The girls walked away with mastery of a lot of the concepts that are covered in Cornell’s Intro to CS classes, and that’s pretty spectacular for middle school students.”

However, Gupta said she is still searching for more ways to enhance and develop the program.

“In the future it would be great to get a wider range of guest speakers so that the students have exposure to different fields of thought,” she said.