When Gia Mar Ramos ’25 was in ninth grade, she became a national winner of the National Center for Women and Information Technology Award for Aspirations in Computing — making her the first student in the country to win the award as a ninth grader. A few years later, one of Ramos’ own mentees became a Puerto Rico winner of NCWIT, after Ramos coached her through the application process.
The student was part of the first summer program of Ramos’ non-profit Girl Innovation — founded in 2018 to address the gender gap in computing and technology.
“[I was proud] seeing her growth with computer science through Girl Innovation,” Ramos said, regarding the student that was honored through NCWIT. “I actually got a girl to love computer science, which is kind of the whole point of [what I do].”
Four years later, on Aug. 9, Ramos — who is from Gurabo, Puerto Rico — was named a member of the inaugural Forbes Puerto Rico Local 30 Under 30 List.
Ramos is a junior majoring in computer science in the College of Engineering. She is a member of Pi Beta Phi and an operations analyst for Cornell DEBUT, the University’s only biomedical engineering project team.
Ramos’ interest in computer science began unintentionally. In fifth grade, she had intended to take a crime investigation class through the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth summer program. Ramos’ father instead signed her up for a robotics class, without telling her.
Ramos recounted that she and the one other girl in the class were both anxious and overwhelmed with no prior coding experience. The girls teamed up and eventually outperformed the boys in the class, despite the initial learning curve.
While Ramos was not particularly interested in robotics, her interest in computer science persisted. The next summer, Ramos decided to stay in Puerto Rico. She searched for computer science summer camps there but could not find a program that interested her.
“The only [tech summer camp] I found was a 3D printing [program] that [had participants] 3D print your own bow or 3D print a bracelet,” Ramos said. “It’s cute, but it wasn’t actually coding, so I wanted to create my own [program].”
This gap in computer science education motivated Ramos to create Girl Innovation in 2018, which creates opportunities for girls, especially those in underprivileged areas around Puerto Rico, to gain exposure to computing. Ramos said that she particularly wanted to target third- to eighth-grade girls who are in the critical years when they may be discouraged from pursuing science, technology, engineering and math.
Her idea came to fruition when she gained mentorship and funding from NCWIT’s program Aspire IT.
Ramos attributed the amount of funding she acquired to her applying to every pitching competition that she came across.
The initiative has been sponsored by CISCO, Cortelco, HERLead — collaborated on by brands including Ann Taylor and LOFT — and T-Mobile, with an accumulated $10,000 in funding derived from grants, sponsorships and savings.
In the first summer of running the program, Ramos taught approximately 15 girls in day-long classes every Saturday. The curriculum ranged from Scratch, an educational block-coding tool targeted towards children, to coding robots to complete challenges.
Only 19 percent of computer science majors identify as women, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Ramos said she aims to bring girls into computer science by making sure activities are appropriate and engaging, rather than intimidating.
“It’s pretty much just trying to find things that aren’t scary from the start,” Ramos said. “If I were to just tell them ‘Oh, let’s code in Java’ from day one, I feel like they would be terrified.”
At the beginning of the course, Ramos — inspired by the coursework of CTY — has the students instruct each other on how to complete a simple task, such as putting on a jacket or shoes, in the language of code. Ramos said that this practice introduces the specificity necessary in writing code and helps students internalize how code functions in an engaging matter.
After the summer camp, Ramos facilitated a mentorship program starting with two of the girls from the camp, encouraging them to compete in technology competitions that she had done herself. In the first year of mentoring, the two girls became semi-finalists in ProjectCSGirls, a nationwide competition with over a thousand competitors.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramos also launched Girl Innovation Talks, a digital video series in which she interviews women in science and technology.
Ramos’ plans for the future are to facilitate an ambassador program to expand the organization outside of Puerto Rico, where she will lead teaching workshops to train the ambassadors to teach the course in their own hometowns.