When my daughters attended coding camp, they were the only girls enrolled. The teachers were welcoming, and the girls were proud of what they learned. But they didn’t make any new friends. When asked if they wanted to continue with coding, neither one said yes.
Technically, girls have access to the same science resources as boys, but a girl’s pursuit of STEM can be a lonely road. The percentage of girls interested in technology drops from two-thirds in elementary school to one-third by high school, and the percentage of technology jobs filled by women has decreased from 37 percent in 1995 to 24 percent in 2017. It’s not surprising, but the repercussions are drastic.
The gender pay gap will never close while women are deterred from work in high-paying fields, and there is growing evidence that widespread gender bias in research has generated flawed results, with particular implications for women’s health.
We can protect girls’ interest in STEM by providing female role models and an encouraging, hands-on community of like-minded future scientists. Fortunately, our area is rich in resources specifically aimed at supporting budding female scientists.
Girls in Science connects middle school and high school girls with female scientists to offer real-world experiences in a variety of STEM fields, such as oceanography, neuroscience, paleobotany and spectroscopy. The middle school program meets one Sunday per month through the school year.
The high school program is conducted in quarterly sessions. Priority is given to candidates with a strong desire to learn but who have limited access to positive science experiences.
Both programs are free, with an application process that is open to all.
Genome Hackers is a high school summer camp run by female graduate students in the University of Washington’s Genome Sciences department. The camp integrates biology and computer science with programming, lab techniques and DNA sequence analysis.
Campers present their findings to the Genome Sciences department. Tuition for this unique one-week, half-day camp is only $50, and scholarships are available.
GEMS is a free, volunteer-run program for seventh- and eighth-grade girls attending Seattle public schools. The program provides hands-on activities, mentoring, field trips and information about a variety of STEM fields. Sign up online to be notified when applications for the school year open.
Amelia’s Aero Club is a Museum of Flight “STEA2M” (science, technology, engineering, aviation, art and mathematics) program for middle school girls. It offers hands-on activities, book clubs, sleepovers, introductions to industry professionals, field trips, competitions and special events at the museum.
The museum also hosts Women Fly, an annual day of activities allowing middle school and high school girls to meet and learn from women working in a variety of aviation and STEM careers. Get your name on the waiting list for the upcoming event in March 2020.
With a bold mission to build the largest pipeline of future female engineers in the United States, Girls Who Code establishes after-school clubs for grades 3–12 around the Puget Sound region and beyond. Club members work in teams on computer science projects to solve real problems.
The organization’s Campus program offers two-week specialized summer courses for girls in grades 6–12, and the Summer Immersion Program provides 10th- and 11th-grade girls intensive coding courses and experiences at major tech companies.
All three programs are free.
School-based chapters of IGNITE Worldwide offer panel discussions featuring women in STEM careers, field trips to corporations to see women at work in STEM occupations, interactive workshops and job-shadowing opportunities. Female enrollment in computer science and engineering classes at participating schools has increased 30–80 percent.
Inspiring Girls Expeditions’ tuition-free wilderness expeditions give teens 12 days in the field studying glaciers, volcanoes and marine science. Applications (opening in December) are competitive, but are not strictly based on academic achievement.
Although programs are tuition-free, with food and equipment provided, participants do incur travel costs.
STEM Paths Innovation Network’s SPIN Girls program launched in fall 2018 to provide eighth-graders with immersive STEM learning experiences and mentorship by professionals of color from across King County. Participants in the program convene for 10 sessions over the course of a school year, dividing time between project-based learning (Lab Days) and visits to partner organizations (Field Days). Applications are open until filled, but space is limited for this free program (registration for 2020–21 is currently open).
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2018, and updated in October 2019.