The task the five middle school-age girls had at Southworth Library in Dryden seemed simple: make an arrow move across the computer screen.
But figure that out, and they could use the programming skills to make almost anything move: a career, maybe, or a future.
Angel Collins, 13, of Freeville tried to get the line to move in time with the Michael Jackson song, “Thriller,” while Halle Pollack, a junior operations research major at Cornell University, made a jack-o’-lantern in the same program.
The fun the middle-school age girls were having is part of Girls Who Code, a nationwide program encouraging girls to get involved with science, technology, engineering and math fields. Five years after it started in New York City, 40,000 girls in all 50 states participate in the program, according to its website.
It is also meant to address the gender disparity in the coding and computer science industry. U.S. News reported that in 2014, 18 percent of computer science majors were women and estimates that by 2025, if current trends hold, women will hold only 20 percent of computing jobs.
The program that started in September at the library runs for 10 weeks on Wednesdays, open to girls in grades 5 through 12. Four volunteers from the Cornell Women in Computing Club teach the girls how to code through simple programs.
Lauren Lo, a senior computer science major at Cornell, said this is meant to show coding can be fun. “It’s for girls to see it as an option, to see it’s not boring,” Lo said. “It can be fun and they can be good at it.”
Six girls now participate in the program’s second year. Southworth Library Director Diane Pamel said 12 girls started out last year before decreasing to eight as other activities competed for their time.
“There wasn’t a lot offered at Dryden (school district) for computer coding,” Pamel said. “It’s a hole we wanted to fill.”
Pamel read about the program online. “When I graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering, women were a minority in the field and I was surprised to find that it had not changed that much many years later,” she said. “I had experimented a bit with coding programs in the library but this program, which brings women pursuing Computer Science and engineering degrees and those working in the field together with young girls, really appealed to me for its broader perspective and impact.”
In October, the students visited the Mars Rover lab at Cornell University to see how the software used to control the rover is programmed. The girls did not control the rover all the way on Mars, but they got a robotic arm to pick up a pencil in the lab.
Collins prefers to do coding for fun while Brianna Host, 13, of Dryden wants to make a career of it.
“I want to make video games and animation,” Host said.