Skip to main content

West Jordan Journal

Girls Who Code become girls who are brave

Jul 03, 2019 03:38PM ● By Jet Burnham

Emily Murphy demonstrates the animation she created. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

In Utah, only 12 percent of employees in computer science careers are women.

“Utah has to address this gender gap,” said Katherine Kireiev of the Utah STEM Action Center. “Tomorrow's economy depends on the choices students make today. It's critical that we break down the gender stereotypes in STEM by examining our micro-messaging in the home, in the classroom, and as a society.”

Exposing girls to coding at an early age is key to combating negative messages girls receive and to increase the likelihood they will pursue technical fields of study, said Kireiev. The STEM Action Center supports Girls Who Code, a free afterschool coding club, as a way to open up a future of possibilities for girls. The clubs are popping up in local elementary and secondary schools all over the country.

Reagan Stowell, a third-grade teacher, started a club this year at Hayden Peak Elementary. She said the experience has been empowering for the third, fourth and fifth-grade girls who explored coding together.

“The great thing about this club is that the kids are the ones that are in charge,” said Stowell. “It’s really not me teaching them anything; it’s the girls figuring it out on their own.” She said so much of coding is about running into a problem, finding out something’s not working, and figuring out how to fix it. The problem-solving skills girls gain is one of the big takeaways from the club—as is team work. 

“They have to learn how to work with each other and how to share and talk and be respectful with each other, which is another big part of coding,” said Stowell.

Reshma Saujani, who founded Girls Who Code in 2012, wanted young girls to gain confidence in coding skills in the best environment for them—which means no boys are allowed.

“It changes the dynamic,” said Stowell. “Because when the boys are here, the girls are not as comfortable being bold.”

Computer lab instructor and co-advisor Jeni Murphy agrees the girls-only club creates a safe and supportive environment.

“They're not afraid to just be girls, to dive in and learn and ask for help,” she said.

The club attracted 27 girls ranging in coding experience. They cheered each other on through coding challenges such as animation and game design. At the end of each meeting the girls and advisers congregated to praise specific girls for their bravery, resilience, persistence, creativity, purposefulness and focus with phrases such as: 

“She couldn't figure out how to do the points so instead of giving up, she just kept on trying and trying and trying” and “She wasn't afraid to ask people for help”.

The national club believes all girls have the interest and ability to learn to code when they are nurtured with the values of leadership, sisterhood, quality, candor and bravery. 

“Our economy, our society, we are just losing out because we are not raising our girls to be brave,” said Emily Ong, Senior Manager of Girls Who Code Community Partnerships and Outreach.

The club offers participants opportunities to create and to be “brave, not perfect” in trying new things. Girls are encouraged to apply their skills to help their community and better the world around them.

“I would like to use coding to help somebody else because it's a very powerful thing that can be used to help other people,” said Simone Strattman, a fifth-grader who hopes to design spaceships to explore other planets and to find out what is in a black hole.

Murphy said with the problem solving necessary for coding, the girls learn how to ask questions in different ways to find answers. Many clubs used their skills to develop a project for the Utah STEM Foundation’s inaugural Girls Who Code Entrepreneurial Challenge, held this spring to inspire girls’ pursuit of leadership roles and entrepreneurship and to encourage greater female representation in STEM fields.

Prizes were awarded for apps created by local clubs that solve contemporary societal issues. Top winners created apps to help students be more involved in their schools, increase self esteem, and to reduce food waste.

Kaitlyn Tenney, a sixth-grader at Elk Meadows Elementary School won one of three Peer Mentor Awards. Additionally, one of the top three Project Challenge Awards went to Elk Ridge Middle School’s club that created a virtual 3D tour app to help new students explore the school.

Sunset Ridge Middle School was a winner in two categories: ninth grader Cara Fuller was a finalist in the Peer Mentor category. Club facilitator, Kami Taylor, received one of three Facilitator Awards. 

Taylor received a $500 cash award which will be used to purchase tools for their club robot. Throughout the year, she used tech tools such as drones, robots and virtual reality devices to provide the 20 girls in her club hands-on experiences in coding.

Because the club was new to the school, the girls created interactive exhibits for the school’s College Night and STEM night to share the purpose of their club.

“I was blown away by their ability to put into words the lessons they were learning,” said Taylor. “The sense of empowerment was real and obvious and really rewarding.”

Taylor also introduced the girls to examples of women in tech, provided by the Girls Who Code platform, to give them confidence to explore those fields.

For more information on how to start a Girls Who Code club, visit