Sarah Patrick is a first-year student at the University of Maryland – College Park studying Information Science. She graduated from the Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School last May, where she completed a year-long research project alongside a DoD mentor from CERDEC, called “Engineering peer credibility via mastery of roles.” Sarah has volunteered with DSA, Inc. for the past three years in collaboration with TechGirlz, running various technical workshops at Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County. Sample workshops include building a website with WordPress and designing a game with Kodu. Sarah also completed an internship with the Project Management Institute (PMI) where she built a speaker database using SharePoint, PowerApps, Forms, and Flow for their annual events. She speaks about her experience with the applications at various technical conferences such as SharePoint Saturday and Philly Code Camp. She is also developing a new talk on creating a game in PowerApps, in hopes it will become a new TechGirlz workshop. (Bio taken from “STEM Illustrated” NMTC Visionary Awards booklet; Feb. 28, 2019)
Hi everyone, I hope you all are enjoying yourselves tonight! My name is Sarah Patrick, and today I want to tell you a story. But first, I want to get to know you a little more.
Please raise your hand if you are someone who works in a technical field.
Raise your hand if you identify as a woman in tech.
Now, raise your hand if you feel equally represented as a woman in tech.
Take a look around. Didn’t you see how many hands were raised before?
We already saw the evidence in the room, but let me hit you with some facts.
I went to a magnet program for high school called the Science and Mathematics Academy, and my graduating class consisted of 48 students. 18 of us were female, making the female ratio of our class 37.5%. To be honest, I was surprised by this number, but keep in mind that not all of us are pursuing the technical field. According to data collected by a company called Evia, women make up less than 20% of U.S. tech jobs, even though they make up more than half the U.S. workforce. Lastly, referring back to my magnet program, I had to apply for that opportunity when I was in middle school. I was the only female from my middle school who pursued that high school program. One out of hundreds. Less than 1%.
Time to start my story. It’s about a young girl. She loved school, hanging with her friends, all the things any kid likes. Elementary school teachers LOVE asking little kids “what do you want to be when you grow up?” This girl first wanted to be a ballet dancer, then a teacher, and changed her mind maybe 10 more times. As she got older, matured, and started “growing up”, she realized… what DO I want to do when I grow up? Like… picking a career? That is some crazy stuff. There are so many factors to it: Of course you want to be able to financially support yourself, hopefully some pets, and maybe even a FAMILY someday, but a career is like… 40 years of your life?! At least?! That’s a lot of pressure, to make a decision that will affect basically your whole life. High school and college prepare you FOR your career, but how did you decide on what career you want to pursue before then?
So, quick spoiler alert, that girl… is me.
Shocker, I know! Remember how I was the only girl from my middle school to go to the STEM magnet program?… why was I the only one?
I am very fortunate to have a family that supports everything I want to do. They wanted to show me all the different opportunities I could have, so they signed me up for every extracurricular you can imagine.
I danced, played soccer and tennis, was in musical theater, played piano and cello, and went to various summer camps, which included some dedicated to STEM. Shout out the CERDEC’s summer camp and GEMS! At the time, they were just extra activities for me to go to. Sure, they were fun, but I wouldn’t realize until later the effect they would have on me. Sure, I realized pretty quickly in elementary school that math and science were my favorite classes, but how was I supposed to see how simple math problems and low-scale experiments could be applied to the real world? That’s exactly what I got to see at these camps. I give credit to these programs for giving the exposure of how STEM is applied in the real world, so thank you.
One more quick fact for you: according to the Girls Scouts Research Institute, girls become interested in STEM at the age of 11 but lose interest at age 15. Some factors include the lack of female mentors, not enough practical, hands-on experience with STEM subjects, and gender inequality in STEM jobs. 11-15 is that middle school age. As I said, I was lucky that my family found these different opportunities for me to get that exposure, but not everyone gets that.
One day, my dad proposed to me that we start a volunteer group in collaboration with a company called TechGirlz. TechGirlz is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the gender gap in technology occupations, by focusing on girls at the crucial middle school age. They offer free workshops to get girls interested in different kinds of technology, show them varied career options, and connect them with professionals in technology fields. I was honestly skeptical by my dad’s idea at first. It sounded like school work outside of school, and I was concerned that the girls would not be interested. But hey, we wouldn’t know without even trying, right? My dad then asked me to present the first session.
*look around in shock*
Me? Dad I don’t do that stuff! He explained that having a young woman present the topic would likely help the girls relate more to the topic and the presenter as well as feel more comfortable. I couldn’t argue with that, so I agreed to do it.
For the next month I was preparing for our kickoff session called, “How to Create a Website Using WordPress.” I felt a lot of pressure of making the first session at least good.
In April of 2016, we held the first session at the Boys and Girls Club of Harford County in Aberdeen. I was shocked by the success we had. These girls had no fear of the technology after being introduced to it and saw all the possibilities it had. They created a variety of websites, from being about pets and music but also social injustice. It was actually difficult to end the session, the girls just wanted to keep working!
Seeing the girls’ eagerness to learn and dedication to their work was truly inspiring. This is exactly what these girls needed. Just some extra exposure to how tech is used in the real world. I actually had a few girls tell me they were excited to apply to the magnet school program I attended. I was just like them.
I have volunteered for TechGirlz for the past three years. My volunteer group, who consists of several professional women from Data System Analysts, Inc., has taken these workshops by TechGirlz and run them for the girls at multiple Boys and Girls Clubs locations at least once a month. Seeing the passion from the other women I worked alongside with for their work as well as volunteering with the girls really showed me how rewarding it is to be a hard-working woman in tech. I knew that volunteering tends to give you a feeling of fulfillment, but I didn’t realize the impact working with the girls would have on me. Before TechGirlz, I was still that little girl confused on “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” By working to inspire them to pursue tech, it inspired me as well. I have grown so much, and I have developed a newfound confidence for giving talks, volunteering, and being a woman in tech.
I am now a freshman at the University of Maryland – College Park, excited to be pursuing a degree in Information Science. Although I am now away at college, I still try to come to as many TechGirlz events as I can since they are so important for these girls, and because I just genuinely enjoy working with them.
TechGirlz is doing exactly what we need to get more women in tech: giving girls the exposure of how exciting technology is at a younger age, when they are figuring out what they want to do. So, this is my call to action: come out and volunteer! To help the girls, the current volunteers, and future employers who will get these valuable assets to help build great things. I’m hopeful we can continue to hold these workshops for the girls, tell others about them, and get more girls and volunteers involved.
If you have any interest to volunteer with us, help take action to inspire more young women, or even just ask me some questions, please don’t hesitate to come and talk to me! I am proud to be a woman in technology, a woman passionate about technology, a woman hoping to empower other women, a woman wanting to inspire others. Thank you!