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Mount Holyoke College targets STEM gender gap with 'women in tech' event

  • Charu Sharma, founder of Go Against The Flow, speaks at a Girls in technology conference held at Mount Holyoke College Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Onji Bae, one of the organizers of the Girls in technology conference held at Mount Holyoke College Sunday, talks about the event. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Eleanor Harris, a mentor, listens as middle, Dunia Adel, 15, of Northampton, and Mikaila Depin, 15, of Granby brainstorm ideas for a tech solution to a problem in their community. Their group was working on ideas for an app that would find accessible bath rooms for people who are in need of gender neutral faculties during a conference held at Mount Holyoke College Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • left, Nora Bernashe,15, of Granby and Mikaila Depin,15, of Granby talk about the Girls in technology conference they participated in at Mount Holyoke College Sunday. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Onji Bae, one of the organizers of the Girls in technology conference held at Mount Holyoke College Sunday, talks about the event. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



@JackSuntrup
Sunday, March 05, 2017

SOUTH HADLEY — When Mount Holyoke College senior Onji Bae came to campus, she wanted to study documentary filmmaking.

“I was never really interested in math or sciences in high school — always thought that was a boy’s thing to be an engineer, coder or programmer,” she said. Then she took her first computer science course. “I fell in love with computer science, ended up majoring in it.”

She and Hashma Shahid, another Mount Holyoke senior, organized the second annual Girls in Tech Conference on campus Sunday, which drew 30 area high school girls for workshops, to hear speeches from other women in tech and to brainstorm.

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected employment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields — commonly referred to as STEM — to grow 13 percent between 2012 and 2022, compared to an 11 percent growth in other fields.

At the same time, men generally particpate in STEM fields at a higher rate than women. According to 2011 U.S. Census Bureau figures, men made up 61 percent of science and engineering graduates and 76 percent of the STEM workforce in that year.

Bae said she and her peers at Mount Holyoke were not exposed to the possibility of entering a STEM field the way boys are. By crafting the event for high schoolers, she hopes more girls will get interested in STEM early on.

“What me and my peers realized is that I wish I knew about coding earlier,” Bae said. “High school girls are not being exposed to computer science at the same levels boys are.”

As part of the program, organizers broke the high schoolers into groups of five and grouped them with two Mount Holyoke computer science students. There was also a software workshop (for app development), a hardware workshop (with laser cutting) and a pitch workshop (for public speaking practice).

The group also heard from a list of speakers including Mount Holyoke alumna Charu Sharma, who works for LinkedIn and spoke about the necessity of diversity in STEM fields.

She said in the New York Apple store, there is a glass staircase.

“Women wear skirts,” she said to laughter. “If there was a female designer on that team, she would’ve thought about that.”

Mikaila Depin and Nora Bernashe, both 15, came to the conference representing Granby Junior Senior High School. In their computer class, they said there are five girls and about 15 boys, they said.

“We both love computer coding,” Depin said. “I’m interested in the field.”

For others interested in exploring the STEM fields, Mount Holyoke is hosting three events over the summer:

• iDesign Workshop for middle and high school girls, where students will create their own wearable tech gear; June 26-30 and August 21-25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Tech Workshops for Teachers, July 2017, dates to be determined.

• Intro to Computer Science, a coding course for high school girls: August 7-18, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information, visit the Mount Holyoke website or email page@mtholyoke.edu.

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.