Written by volunteer writer Amy Freeman
TechGirlz’ mission is to inspire middle school girls to explore the possibilities of technology to empower their future careers. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way TechGirlz’ reaches out to and connects with girls, it hasn’t been able to stop us from working to achieve our mission.
Alicia Park, our National Outreach Manager, recently appeared on an episode of the podcast “Technologist Talk” to talk about TechPodz, a distance learning program designed to foster community and connection among middle school girls, parents, and technology professionals in the midst of the pandemic.
An edited transcript of Alicia’s conversation with Celine Dirkes, the podcast’s producer, is below.
Alicia: In seven months’ time, we’ve been able to reach over 6,000 middle school girls with more than 200 virtual workshops, offered across the nation and beyond, using a digital platform to offer what we once did in person. Since the pivot to a digital platform, about 50 girls took 10 or more of our workshops and 10 girls took 20 or more workshops with us, demonstrating the want and need for these types of opportunities. The girls interested in technology are still out there and we need to be out there for them even more so during this time.
Celine: Can you tell me more about how the tech industry or our society benefits from girls being interested in technology?
Alicia: There’s a vast gender divide in the technology sector. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up more than 50% of the U.S. professional workforce. But, they only comprise a small fraction of the technology sector, and recruiting and retaining women in tech is an ongoing challenge, which is why we need to start with the younger generations.
When businesses have more gender-diverse teams, they have better productivity and financial performance compared to homogeneous teams.
Celine: So, could you tell a bit more about what a learning TechPod is?
Alicia: When we went virtual, we were really afraid to lose that community aspect of our programs, we were afraid the girls wouldn’t feel that connection with each other. Building those relationships is a huge part of keeping them engaged in tech.
Our typical virtual one-off workshops could have an upwards say 30 to 35 girls, but we wanted to be able to have opportunities for smaller group learning, and that’s where TechPodz came in. A TechPod is a group of 14 girls who are seeing each other repetitively. We wanted to make sure as well that these learning pods were also accessible to all of the girls in our programs, and that’s why we wanted to continue to offer them free just like our other workshops always are.
Celine: Could you tell me about the tech professionals who teach and the kind of mentorship that TechGirlz experience?
Alicia: Every week, the topic the girls are working on changes and it’s different depending on the tech pod itself as well. We look to find tech professionals who are experienced in a specific topic we want to offer the girls. For instance, some topics that we’ve led with include podcasting and creating a website using HTML/CSS. The instructors who lead the programs usually work with the topic day to day. The instructor is a big part in making sure the girls feel comfortable.
Something else that we did with TechPodz this round is put a fun spin on the names. We named each tech pod after a notable woman in tech, like Ada Lovelace, Catherine Johnson, and Edith Clark.
Celine: I know a lot of parents are struggling to manage classrooms within their own homes. TechPodz is an extracurricular activity, so how is that time management factor included?
Alicia: We do understand that parents have this extra weight on them right now managing virtual school or hybrid learning. We really listened to our parents. They reached out to us. We heard from many parents looking for additional opportunities for their girls.
We ensure that our teaching assistants who sign up to be a part of the pods understand that they are committing to a six-week period with these girls, and they are there to support them in their learning.
And we have tech professionals, who are in the industry, coming in and leading these workshops. We’re taking something off of parents’ and teachers’ plates and offering it through TechGirlz in a structured way. We like to stress that TechPodz provide student-centered instruction and community while making sure our families stay safe and healthy during the pandemic.
As 2020 comes to a close, TechGirlz is looking toward the year to come and is starting to prepare for round 2 of TechPodz. If you’d love to get involved with a pod, as a TA or a sponsoring company, learn more about volunteering with TechGirlz today.