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. Despite equal access, the percentage of women pursuing STEM subjects in higher education is on the decline, with women achieving just 18 percent of new computer sciences degrees. And the percentage of tech-related jobs filled by women has decreased from 37 percent in 1995 to 26.7 percent in 2023.
Women in software engineering report a lack of equal pay, making $0.93 cents for every dollar that men in the field make. The gender pay gap will never close while women are deterred from work in high-paying fields.
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. Check the website in the spring or summer for 2023 registration information.
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 STEM program for middle school girls. The club hosts personal growth experiences providing members with opportunities to think critically, take risks, get creative, problem-solve and pay tribute to the history of women in aviation.
The club is open to all young women and gender expression (queer, femme or gender nonbinary) who are in sixth, seventh or eighth grades. To receive information about registration opportunities, fill out the interest form on the website.
The one-day Women Fly event is an inspirational and interactive way for middle school and high school girls interested in STEM to learn about careers in aviation and aerospace. This year's event is back in person and takes place Saturday, March 25, 2023, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
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 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 (open 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 currently closed, but keep checking the website for upcoming opportunities, including a summer retreat in July 2023.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2018, and updated in 2023.