Staying Connected with STEM During the Pandemic: TechGirlz Teen Volunteer And Teen Advisory Board Member, Sarah Ridley

Sarah in a green wrap dress, posing for the camera
Looking back on a full year of living in the pandemic, I am surprised at how many new STEM experiences I had, even in times of total lock-down and quarantine. After all my summer plans were cancelled, like everyone else around the world, I found myself searching for ways to fill my time. I finally had the chance to choose my own learning path, without the oversight of teachers or the pressures of being in a classroom. My dad recommended to me a course through the online platform EdX and Harvard, called Harvard CS50. Realizing that it mirrors Harvard’s Introductory Computer Science class, I thought it would be the perfect chance to test my interest in pursuing computer science in college. Unsurprisingly, I fell in love with the class and project style, the independent learning I got to do, and the instruction from the professors. I spent around eleven weeks working on the course, and now I have a certificate of completion and a new confidence in my dream of majoring in computer science in college.

Although the Harvard course largely focused on learning C, it also allowed students to choose their path in the last few weeks of the program, and I selected the website development path. After learning some HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and working on website projects for the class, I was inspired to start making my own website: a cooking and baking blog where I can post recipes that my mom and I love (cooking was another new skill I picked up thanks to the pandemic). Now, whenever I have free time, I work on building my website.

Thanks to the skills that I picked up from CS50, I feel empowered to help teach more TechGirlz workshops. Before, I felt most confident teaching the Python Programming course, but now I can teach Computer Programming With C++, Introduction to JavaScript, Make A Website Using HTML/CSS, and Make A Website Using WordPress. Also, thanks to my AP Computer Science A class in highschool, I could also teach Intro to Java.

Being on the Teen Advisory Board at TechGirlz and getting the opportunity to lead these workshops has changed my life. As a TechGirlz alum from middle school, I am incredibly grateful that those in-person workshops gave me the chance to learn hands-on about such a diverse range of technology topics. Those classes, especially the programming classes, helped me fall in love with tech, and now I get to share those experiences with other young girls.

When TechGirlz’s workshops first went online at the beginning of the pandemic, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to adapt to teaching over Zoom or the girls wouldn’t get as much out of the workshops. But after teaching so many this year, I have been completely proven wrong. Although some of this success is due to TechGirlz’s extensive organization and lesson planning resources, I think it also comes from the girl’s passion for these technology topics. If they weren’t totally dedicated to exploring technology, they could just change tabs and not pay attention. But I have seen that this is rarely the case: the girls are constantly asking questions, and at the end of the workshop, they show off the amazing work and projects they created.

screen capture showing workshop attendees on camera and a shared screen with code

Their passion that has endured during the pandemic makes me so hopeful for the future of women in STEM, because although I am their mentor today, we are only a few years apart. So in the real tech industry of the future, these women will be my peers, and I couldn’t be more excited to work with them.

Meeting new people and staying involved with our passions has been a hurdle for almost everyone during the pandemic. I encourage anyone who is interested in meeting other young women passionate about technology to help out at a workshop, it’s super easy tosign up on TechGirlz’s website! I would also encourage middle school girls and their parents to look into TechGirlz’s workshops and resources, and even apply for the Teen Advisory Board once they reach highschool. These workshops have changed my life, and I hope they can continue to spread technology skills and a love for STEM to many more girls in the future!