By Alexis Schlindwein, Comm ’13, senior communication specialist in the Opus College of Engineering
Computing and technology jobs are abundant, and they’re only expected to rise. But according to Code.org, only 40 percent of high schools nationwide teach computer science.
This leaves employers wondering just how they can get today’s students — tomorrow’s workforce — interested in a promising, growing field. The answer lies in teaching them a new language, but not those typically offered by schools. It’s the new language of technology — coding.
In an effort to introduce Milwaukee-area students to the world of computing and technology, Northwestern Mutual and NEWaukee hosted Milwaukee’s Hour of Code, a challenge to 20 area organizations to teach 1,000 hours of code during Computer Science Awareness Week in December. Marquette’s Girls Who Code chapter was eager to join the efforts.
Marquette’s chapter started during the 2014-15 school year with about 20 girls. They participated in Level One of the national Girls Who Code program, which taught the fundamentals of computer science using the Python programming language. Now in its fifth year, Marquette’s chapter welcomes nearly 50 young girls and boys, age 10 through high school, to campus once a week from September through April. They’ve grown their offerings, too, so that students can come back year after year to continue building their coding skills around web development and project-based learning like apps.
Paula Van Camp, Eng ’20, is one of several Marquette students who not only teach the weekly Girls Who Code classes but also serve as role models who share their experiences around the value of knowing how to code. Van Camp, a computer engineering major, notes that like many of the students in Girls Who Code, a career in coding wasn’t always on her radar.
“I had always been a tinkerer and played around with tools and concepts that related to engineering,” said Van Camp. “But it wasn’t until I helped start a Girls Who Code chapter in my high school, that I learned to love coding and the concepts of bringing things to life through technology and not just physical components.”
When students aren’t exposed to STEM activities like coding, they not only miss out on learning the technical competencies but the problem-solving capabilities that are developed, too. That’s why programs like Girls Who Code and initiatives like the Hour of Code are important.
“One of the most rewarding parts for me is when a student asks a question and before I answer, they end up walking through the problem on their own,” Van Camp said. “I enjoy seeing them reason through the different problems we pose and the confidence and independence they gain when they solve problems.”
While Marquette’s chapter contributed 82 total hours of code for Milwaukee’s Hour of Code, the impact goes even further. For the students who attend class each week, they’re not just learning a new skill. They’re opened up a world of opportunities for future careers in STEM.
Northwestern Mutual has been a great partner to the Marquette Girls Who Code program over the years; most recently, the Opus College of Engineering’s Office of Enrollment Management and Outreach received a $5,000 award from the Milwaukee-based financial services firm to support the Girls Who Code chapter. The funds will help offset the costs of running the chapter and support girls from Milwaukee and the surrounding southeast Wisconsin community.