Hinsdale Central junior Jackie Vogel is fully aware that women can excel in the world of computer science. Her own mother works in the field. Yet it wasn't until Vogel attended a Girls Who Code summer camp that she ever considered studying the science herself.
"I never would have considered coding if I hadn't gone to that camp," she said. The camp provided a comfortable environment in which she could realize her potential. She returned so excited about coding that she was determined to find a way to share her experience with other girls at Hinsdale Central, and so, Girls Who Code soon came to be.
Vogel teamed up with her friend and fellow coder Sana Kamal to start the club at the high school. Now in its first year, the club is one of many across the country that use the Girls Who Code organization's curriculum to offer girls and nonbinary students a safe place to learn about computer coding - an environment that often is dominated by boys and men.
Kamal, also a junior, began coding in elementary school and took AP Computer Science Principles as a freshman.
"I kind of felt out of place," she said, despite the fact that she likely had more experience than most students in the class. She said she felt the same way last summer, when she completed a computer science internship.
Club sponsor and computer science instructor John Schlamann confirmed that a majority of students in Hinsdale Central's computer science classes are male. He, along with Vogel and Kamal, said they hope the Girls Who Code club will change that.
After seeking approval from school administration to add the club to the school's already long list of organizations, Vogel and Kamal started spreading the word about Girls Who Code last fall and held the first meeting in November.
"The word got out," Vogel said. Just four months later, the club has 40 names on its email list. More than 20 girls attended the latest meeting on March 2. Each meeting begins with an ice breaker or game to help girls get to know each other.
"We're creating a sisterhood," Vogel said. In fact, sisterhood is a core value of the Girls Who Code organization.
The icebreaker is followed with a lesson in basic code, as well as a more challenging option for those with more experience. From members who have never coded before to those who are taking steps toward a computer science career, Vogel said the club strives to offer ways for every member to build their skills.
Kamal said leading Girls Who Code is strengthening her own skills, too.
Coding requires patience, attention to detail and problem-solving skills, Kamal said, noting that skills used while learning coding can be put to use no matter what field someone chooses to pursue.
For those who want to learn even more, Kamal and Vogel are helping their fellow coders find summer opportunities to hone their skills and build their skill sets.
"I have a long way to go," Kamal said, but she said Girls Who Code is getting her there just a little faster. "It's making me a better coder," she said, and a better leader.
Schlamann said he's impressed with the leadership shown by both Kamal and Vogel. As the club's sponsor, he sits back and lets them take charge. But he also takes every opportunity to encourage club members to grow their computer skills in one of his classes.
Having a friend in class makes any class more fun, Schlamann said.
- by Sandy Illian Bosch