Written by Sarah Johnson
Looking back on my time with TechGirlz, I did a double take. We doubled everything since I started as employee #2! We’ve doubled the number of employees… twice. Doubled the number of girls who have explored technology in a year. Doubled the number of workshop topics in our curriculum. More than doubled the number of volunteers. If you do the math it makes sense: doubling the size of the staff doubled our impact. But a simple equation doesn’t account for the difference we’ve made in so many lives just this past year.
At TechGirlz, we recognize that volunteers are our lifeblood – without volunteers we have no workshops and would be unable to engage girls with technology. Each workshop has 3-5 volunteers sharing their experience with up to 20 girls. For the 6,000 girls that we’ve engaged with technology, we’ve had hundreds of volunteers donate their time to prepare for and lead a 3 hour workshop. I’m continually amazed at how many people offer to take a few hours to help middle school girls explore technology.
Even more amazing than the number of volunteers we’ve had is who has stepped up to lead a workshop. Last year, I was contacted by multiple high school students who asked how they can help. To be honest, I hesitated. I didn’t know what to tell them. What could they do? What would their parents let them do? But before I could express my hesitations, they offered the solution. “Could I lead a workshop?” To which I thought, why not?
Our mission at TechGirlz is to inspire girls to explore what’s possible with technology. Innovation is happening at an astonishing rate with new devices and solutions popping up in our hands, our houses, and our environment all around us. We don’t know what’s possible tomorrow. We know that we need to keep challenging our preconceptions and to be always learning. If we don’t ask questions of ourselves and each other, how will we ever know what’s possible?
So we said yes to the high school students. As Kat Borlongon said to the 10-year-old girl who applied for an innovation fellowship to improve the streets of Paris, nowhere did we say no. We said yes and gave these students room to experiment, to try things on their own. With adult supervision in the room for legal reasons, teenage volunteers shared what they knew about technology with girls only a few years younger than themselves. They followed the curriculum and shared their insights about coding, 3D printing, animation, robotics, infographics, and many more technology topics. Many of these students had only learned the technology a few months before they led a workshop but with curriculum in hand, a few dedicated hours of practice, and a curious mind, they stood up in front of their near-peers and led the way.
Over and over again I hear from teenage volunteers who want to share what they just learned. Their world changed when they learned how to create a website, how to make a robot move, how to print a 3D object from strings of plastic, or how to draw and design on the computer. They understand the power of harnessing technology to share ideas and change the world around you and, more than anything, the power of sharing that knowledge. Additionally, by sharing their enthusiasm for technology, these students are building a community. When you show your friend what you can make on the computer and then show them how to do the same, you solidify that friendship with your new shared interest. These girls are ensuring a strong and growing future for women in technology by asking how they can help, how they can share their passion and interests and make more friends.
As I leave TechGirlz for adventures afar, I want to thank the teenagers and all of the TechGirlz who challenged my preconceptions of what’s possible. I look forward to bringing this challenge with me as I ask others how I can help them change their world.