Greenpoint Gazette
Program Volunteer Oi Yee assists one of the students

Greenpoint Y Looks to Reduce Gender Gap in STEM Careers

BY Tanay Warerkar

The Greenpoint YMCA is leading the charge to get young women invested in careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Beginning in October, the YMCA launched a pilot program, the Business, Entrepreneurship and Technological Achievement for Girls (BETAgirls) – funded and supported by MasterCard, to promote the learning of STEM fields particularly among young women from low-income families all across the city.

According to research conducted by the YMCA, STEM jobs are expected to grow by 17 percent between 2008 and 2018. And, while women hold nearly half of all jobs – that statistic drops to only 25 percent in the case of STEM careers. BETAgirls looks to improve on those numbers.

“Many young women are foreclosing the idea of having careers in the STEM field really as early as middle school, thinking that “they aren’t good in math” or they aren’t smart enough,” said Shakira O’Kane, the citywide Director of College and Career Access at the YMCA of Greater New York. “We hope that this program gives our participants an opportunity to see that they can be successful, computer science, mobile application building can be fun and accessible.”

The primary focus of the program is to teach the students how to code.

Administered by volunteers with backgrounds in science and business management, the girls participating in the program learn the basics of coding in Java Script. Later in the yearlong program, students will learn to create Android Mobile Applications.

To supplement the lessons and generate further interest in the field, the YMCA has organized monthly visits for the students to tech-based companies throughout the city.

Towards the end of the program, students will participate in the Technovation Challenge – an international app creation competition, with a $10,000 prize to take the app to the market.

Eleven students signed up for the pilot program. MasterCard is providing the hardware required for the program. In addition, they are providing students with a $500 Prepaid MasterCard Tech Grant at the end of the program, and if that’s not enough – the best performing students in the program will be awarded with laptops and computer software.

“I think it’s predominantly a male dominated thing but girls can do it too,” said Jacky Z., one of the participating students, and a 12th grader at the Millennium High School in the Financial District in Manhattan, responding to why she thought it was important for girls to code. “They can create things using their imagination and use it in real life. Girls just need the experience, and to be exposed to it.”

The program meets twice a week after school hours and will continue into next spring. The YMCA will monitor the results of the inaugural program in order to establish it as a regular feature.

“To be able to teach girls how to code, and empower them to create what they imagine is priceless,” said Tatiana Terzuoli, the Director of Communications and Fund Development, at the Greenpoint YMCA.

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