Sit With Me: Inspiring Women in Computing and IT

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Earlier this year, thanks to Laura Raganas (Office of EdTech, Kentucky Department of Education), Hardin County Schools opened the programming pathway at the Early College and Career Center utilizing the Girls Who Code curriculum (in addition to the Imagine Academy for more advanced courses). (Read more on my journey to computer science teacher here.) As this process continued and girls enrolled in the pathway, momentum began to build. We realized that in order make our instruction as authentic as possible but to also expose more girls to these options at a younger age, we needed to call in reinforcements.

Hardin County Kentucky is so special. The community in which we live is truly remarkable. Through a little research, I discovered so many amazing leaders (WOMEN leaders) in the tech industry right here in our own back yard. I wanted to begin building relationships with these people and companies. I wanted them to know what we were doing but even more importantly I wanted to show my girls career options that existed in their own back yard…opportunities that they had no idea were there.

The National Center for Women and Information Technology launched a global campaign called Sit With Me. The purpose of this initiative was to raise awareness for women in computing, to give them a chair in which to sit, and a platform to tell the story of their journey in IT. Sometimes you have to sit to take a stand. The more I read about this campaign, the more I knew we had to bring this event to Hardin County Schools.

I brought the idea of hosting a Sit With Me event to Hardin County Schools Community Relations Specialist, John Wright. Immediately he suggested connecting with Kenny Rambo and Beth Avey of Heartland Communications. Over a nice salad wrap at McAllister’s, I made two new friends with whom I shared a common passion. Beth believed in my mission and encouraged me to look into the Heels Together grant opportunity. Heels Together is a community initiative, started within the Central Kentucky Community Foundation, that is dedicated to creating women-led solutions and lasting change in central Kentucky.

This summer I began the process of applying for the grant. I knew that I wanted to go beyond ONE community event. Yes, I wanted to rally the troops and bring our community together for the sake of guiding and supporting our girls while raising awareness for women in computing and IT. However, I wanted the girls enrolled in my course at EC3 to have the opportunity to lead, guide, and mentor younger girls while starting conversations about computer science at a much earlier age. This thought process led to the second component of my grant: a leadership camp for young elementary girls (grades 3rd-5th) that focused on computer science but also on leadership and confidence. Studies have shown that the gender gap in computer science isn’t necessarily because girls aren’t interested. My favorite quote from Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, is this: “You cannot BE what you cannot SEE.”

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I want the girls in our community to SEE all their options. When girls are given more choices they often make different decisions. Had I known, as a student myself, that computer science was not only something I was interested in, but something I was good at… I think my journey would have been a lot different. I want to create opportunities for the girls in our community that I wish I had experienced myself.

Earlier in September I was notified that my grant was a finalist. Last night I had the opportunity to share my passion in front of the investors at the annual Heels Together investor banquet.

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Luckily for me, I made it through my presentation without crying but not without technical hiccups. (The irony, right?) I wanted the investors to hear from my girls. The girls in the video are actual students in the Girls Who Code course at the HCS Early College and Career Center.  Since the video didn’t play last night, I’d like to invite you to hear from them now:

After the investors cast their ballots an announcement was made and our Sit With Me grant was fully funded. I am so grateful.

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Words cannot describe how excited I am to partner with such an incredible initiative as Heels Together to host this event and camp for the young ladies in the Hardin County area. I am also incredibly blessed and humbled to have had so many amazing women supporting me with this idea and gently nudging me along the way for the past several months. (AlisonBeth, Nannette, Davette, Sherry… you girls are my JAM.)

To all my new friends (Lindsey & Kristy especially)… thank you so much for your words of encouragement and support at the banquet. My heart is full.

Friends… this is just the beginning.

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