Keystone Science School plans retreat for girls to spark interest in tech | SummitDaily.com

Keystone Science School plans retreat for girls to spark interest in tech

Across the nation, there is a lack of women in tech and science-related fields — and the problem in only getting worse.

Accenture, a professional services company, recently partnered with Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization that encourages girls toward tech jobs. The organizations released a report called Cracking the Gender Code, which says that women represent 24 percent of the computing workforce in the United States. But by 2025 the report says that number will shrink to 22 percent if more women and girls don't jump on the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) bandwagon. The report also said that fewer women in the field hurts job prospects generally. In 2015 there were 500,000 computing jobs that needed to be filled, but only 40,000 computer science graduates.

Locally, The Keystone Science School started a Girls in STEM program in April of 2015 to help give girls in Summit County the tools to get a jump start in these fields. From Nov. 4-6 they will partner with the Breckenridge Film Festival to host the first weekend Tech Retreat for Girls.

Janice Kurbjun, the executive director of the Breckenridge Film Festival, said that the festival partners with organizations throughout the community to highlight different issues. For Kurbjun personally, being a part of this event meant helping fight for gender equality in the workforce.

"Myself being a female, the fact that women are 50 percent of the population, and about 49 percent of the workforce, but then just only 25 percent of the science, technology, engineering and math workforce, it just kind of blows you away," said Kurbjun.

The retreat is for girls in the 5th through 12th grade, and will allow them to create a project and then present it at a public event. Currently, more than 20 girls have signed up for the retreat. There are still slots available, and more information can be found at http://www.keystonescienceschool.org. Lizzie Meyer, the community programs manager at the Keystone Science School, said that the first part of the retreat will have the girls brainstorm tech-based solutions to different community issues. She also said that on Friday, the organization will talk to retreat attendees about various careers and opportunities in STEM fields.

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On Saturday the group will begin developing some of the skills they need to create their project, such as coding for a website. In the afternoon, they will begin to put everything together.

The Summit Spotlights Girls and Women in Tech community event on Nov. 5 is meant to showcase the girls' work, and allow them to get feedback from industry professionals and the community. The girls will be able to revise their projects on Sunday to show a final version to their parents. There will be a screening of "CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap" on Saturday night, which Kurbjun said was an official selection of the Breckenridge Film Festival, as well as the Tribeca Film Festival. Tickets for the film screening are $5, and can be purchased on http://www.breckfilmfest.org.

At the community event there will also be a panel which will include Carol Lang, research and development section manager at Hewlett-Packard in Fort Collins, as well as Shelly Sousa, a business systems analyst for ViaSat, and an animation student.

"Hosting events like the one that the Keystone Science School and Breck Film Fest are hosting this weekend are absolutely necessary to not just introduce girls and women to opportunities, but to also empower them to pursue those opportunities if it ignites a passion in them," said Amy Kemp, founder of Mountaintop Media, which has been working to promote the event.

Kemp received a bachelors of science in environmental studies and said that the decrease in women in tech fields is "disheartening."

A lack of role models for girls interested in STEM fields is cited as one of the biggest contributors to fewer women in those fields. According to Girls Who Code, interest in STEM-related fields tends to drop as girls get older. The Cracking the Gender Code report says that continued exposure to role models and STEM programming in middle and high school is crucial to maintain student interest.

"You see that right around middle school years, girls that like to … maybe play video games, or program or code, or tinker, or have their Lego set and like to build things and be a maker, and then all of a sudden they hit middle school and they lose that confidence and they also potentially lose that interest because a lot of cultural and a lot of I guess societal pressure hits them in middle school," said Kemp.

Meyer also said that this is one of the goals at the Keystone Science School in their Girls in STEM programming. Part of what they do is connect young students to current or retired professionals from those industries, as well as high school and college students that are interested in STEM fields. Keystone Science School also has more events planned in 2017 for Girls in STEM, and Meyer said they will start looking into programing for boys as well.

The organization also gives parents the tools to spark and maintain their child's interest in STEM fields. How parents talk to their children about their efforts in math and science classes in school can also be key.

"It really starts with the youth, so it starts with exposing them to the careers and those options," Meyer said. "We find things like micro-messages of 'Oh it's OK, you're not good at math, so go do some art,' things like that, and how can you try to shift the mentality so that you're really supporting the confidence in all students that they can do whatever they want to do as long as they put forth that effort."