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Girls who code opens local chapter with help from University members

Middle+and+high+school+students+participated+in+the+one-day+event+organized+by+the+Girls+Who+Code+club+in+Siebel+Center+on+Sunday%2C+Feb+12%2C+2017.
Middle and high school students participated in the one-day event organized by the Girls Who Code club in Siebel Center on Sunday, Feb 12, 2017.

Middle and high school students participated in the one-day event organized by the Girls Who Code club in Siebel Center on Sunday, Feb 12, 2017.

Emma Li

Emma Li

Middle and high school students participated in the one-day event organized by the Girls Who Code club in Siebel Center on Sunday, Feb 12, 2017.

Luke Cooper, Staff Writer

The national group Girls Who Code is partnering with the University’s well-known computer science department to encourage sixth through 12th grade girls in the central Illinois area to study computer programming.

Girls Who Code held their first official meeting on Jan. 22 in the basement of the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science. The group will follow with weekly meetings from 1-3 p.m. on Sundays at the same location.

The national organization Girls Who Code aims to educate girls from all backgrounds in computer programming with the goal of closing the gender gap in the field of technology.

Prior to the chapter’s start, Girls Who Code’s presence on campus only came through summer immersion programs.

Girls Who Code’s CEO and founder Reshma Saujani graduated from the University in 1997 with a double major in political science and speech communication. 

“It seems like a no brainer that we should also have a club from this person who started this wonderful organization, who also went to Illinois,” said Cynthia Coleman, club facilitator and associate director of external relations at the Computer Science Department.

Coleman hopes to partner the local chapter with Saujani.

Coleman said her chapter is the only official club in the Champaign-Urbana area. Overall, 35 girls are now enrolled in the club, which is double the initial 15 members.

She said girls come as far as Danville to attend the weekly meetings.

Enrollment is larger than expected according to club curriculum planner and Engineering student Kate Milleker. She previously worked with the UIC chapter, which started with 17 members.

“I was going off of what (UIC’s Girls Who Code) experience had been so I was very surprised to see such strong demonstrated interest,” Milleker said.

Coleman said the club hopes to recruit more help from University computer science students and to have faculty come speak. She also said that the department is fully funding t-shirts to help the girls feel “proud of their club.”

All experience levels from beginner to advanced are accommodated in the club , Milleker said.

“From a department standpoint, we would just encourage anyone to learn some coding and programming even if it’s not something they’re going to do for the rest of their lives,” Coleman said.

Eleven-year-old club member Byla Chapman said she has learned a lot through the club already. She had previously attended the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program.

The girls keep coming back each week motivated and excited to learn, Milleker said.

“It’s really cool to see them kind of figure things out that they didn’t think they could before,” she said. “Everyone is learning together and kind of succeeding together.”

lukeac2@dailyillini.com

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