Guest blog by Julia Guard, Esri Tech Support Analyst
As a woman with a career in software, I was excited to learn about Esri’s involvement in WhizGirls, and honored by the opportunity to work directly with the program. The California based WhizGirls Academy aims to inspire young girls to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through fun, hands-on learning initiatives. The project-based gaming approach follows a “detective” theme, encouraging the growth of analytical skills and teamwork as the girls work together on “missions” as “secret agents.” At Esri, we support their mission by presenting workshops that foster spatial thinking and introduce career paths available in GIS and programming.
“WhizGirls are empowered. Empowered to learn, empowered to explore, empowered to be themselves.”
–Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia, WhizGirls Academy Founder
The WhizGirls Academy empowers young women to learn, to explore, and to be themselves.
WhizGirls also aims to connect with inner-city, low-income, and alternative students. On my most recent trip to work with the WhizGirls, I was initially taken aback by the environment. I sat among young women ages 15-18, several of whom are raising themselves without the security of parents or a safe home. Many of these girls know a thing or two about hardship, opportunities lost, and the value of a dollar. What they may not know is just how much education will determine their future.
Less than ten years ago, I too was a teenage girl, and just as unsure of myself. For me, discovering geography was a turning point. It was the educational investment I made in myself that gave me the confidence to feel like a “whiz girl”. The education I received enables me to tell a story of success, opportunities gained, and the value of a career. Working with the WhizGirls program, I got to share the benefit I reaped from my education. So, while the girls were busy missioning to “crack the code,” I missioned to show them both the fun and opportunities available in a career based in STEM.
As the technological focus for WhizGirls is front-end web development, I was able to collaborate with colleagues in order to demonstrate some basic ways that HTML & CSS are integrated in Esri products. Using ArcGIS Online, we helped the girls design webmaps using data that was meaningful to them. We also showed them how to use tools to measure, search, and perform analysis to interact with their maps. The workshop allowed us to introduce some fundamental GIS concepts as well as discuss how code is used to build each application.
The result was outstanding: we filled a room with laughter, learning and an infectious energy for exploration. The girls seemed to really enjoy interacting with maps, discovering different geographies, and dabbling with a little HTML. Sharing the joy of a new discovery is a wonderful experience; however, what struck me the most was the feeling of empowerment we shared as we learned together and inspired one another.
WhizGirls provides more than an introduction to programming; it provides an introduction to empowerment through STEM education. The program is hard at work to develop a space where girls are encouraged to be themselves and to take pride in truly being a “whiz girl”.
For more information about WhizGirls, contact Shirin Salemnia.