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Girls Who Code aims to level disparity of women in tech

Lu Seapy is an educator based in The Dalles and is the STEM Outreach Coordinator for the OSU Extension Office in Wasco County.

Last year, Seapy started the Girls Who Code 4-H Club after she learned about the organization at a teacher’s conference. Seapy was impressed with the mission and that the organization has served more than 300,000 girls.

Most impressive to Seapy is that Girls Who Code is not just about coding. It was designed to help build girls confidence in science and technology.

“There is a disparity of women in STEM,” Seapy says and points to the number of women that are working as computer scientists as proof.

“In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Now it is 24%,” Seapy says. “We’re trying to correct that.”

Girls Who Code aims to engage girls around the world and the organization says that it is on track to close the gender gap in new entry-level tech jobs by 2027.

Lu’s own path to teaching STEM and coding classes was not something that she could have foreseen years ago when she graduated from college and went to work in public relations. “I wanted to work in business but after working awhile I decided to go into teaching” Lu went on to get her Master’s of Art in Teaching and taught in Alaska for 14 years.

“In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Now it is 24%,” Seapy says. “We’re trying to correct that.”

Lu Seapy, STEM Outreach Prog. Coord, Wasco Co. OSU Ext. Service

Lu says that she did her student teaching in business-technology and later as a teacher, became more knowledgeable about computer science. “There was a shortage of computer teachers in public education,” Seapy says and she quickly became the go-to in her school for tech issues.

Upon moving to Wasco County, Seapy worked to bring more STEM programs to 4-H Clubs. Seapy says that she learned about the Girls Who Code program about a year ago at an Oregon Association of Teachers conference. She quickly put together her first club, which started in the spring of 2020.

As COVID-19 forced the cancellation of many 4-H groups, Seapy says that Girls Who Code was uniquely situated to weather the storm and to provide an outlet for girls who had to cancel other activities.

“You can put together a class anywhere, you can be self-employed, independent and work from wherever.”

Because of COVID, OSU Extensions also started collaborating across counties and agreed that they should extend opportunities in the region and not limit services based on geography.

Marilee Anderson is the 4-H and SNAP-ED Program Coordinator for the OSU Extension in Gilliam County.

Anderson says that when schools began closing due to COVID-19 in March, OSU Extension began planning how to move 4-H to a virtual platform.

“Most extension agents were hard at work trying to pull off fair, some virtual, some in-person,” Anderson says. “Simultaneously agents began changing curriculum to a virtual format.”

As a result, Marilee says that OSU Extension Services began to focus on the needs of youth and to collaborate across counties.

“4-H offers so many programs, it’s almost impossible for an agent to be the expert in all areas,” Anderson says. “This is why I appreciate Lu so much; her knowledge of STEM programs far surpasses mine.”

Girls Who Code has reached more than 500 Million people through its campaigns and advocacy work. It has also directly served more than 300,000 girls.

Without such collaboration, youth would be missing out on opportunities, Anderson says. “As agents we learn from each other, Lu and I have plans for a “teach the teacher” session so I can get more familiar with coding and other STEM programs.” 

Seapy says that while girls are learning more about tech and how to code, the big push is that girls learn confidence.

“I think a lot of times in a traditional classroom, girls are fearful of speaking out, especially on science and technology.” Seapy has been a robotics instructor for 7 years and says that it is common for boys to take over the group. “It is harder for girls to take the lead and to put themselves out front,” she says.

Seapy says that Girls Who Code is a great program and that 300,000 girls are participating across the country in grades 3 through 12. Seapy says that there is a big need to push STEM in middle school when many girls start to lean away from science programs.

Girls Who Code also helps youth take on an issue that they feel strongly about and encourages them to find ways in which coding can make a difference, such as creating a website or an app to raise awareness.

Currently, the group is working on solutions for people that find injured or homeless animals.

Initially started as a club for students at The Dalles Middle School, Girls Who Code 4-H was extended to kids from neighboring counties by OSU Extension Services.

While most of the youth who are participating in the 4-H Club are from The Dalles or Hood River, there are two participants from Gilliam County who attends Condon Grade School.

Seapy encourages parents to get their kids involved in as many things as they can, even in this hard time. “Getting kids working together is really key for their mental health and emotional health,” she says.

To learn more about the Girls Who Code 4-H Club, visit https://gwcc-or18512.weebly.com/.


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