Donna Gavin, a senior lecturer in computer science and software engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and founder of Platteville’s Girls Who Code Club, recently received a grant of more than $1,500 from the Platteville Community Fund, which will help support new opportunities for both the middle and high school-aged girls in the club and their college mentors.
Part of an international Girls Who Code organization, the Platteville Girls Who Code club was founded by Gavin in January 2018 and aims to support women and girls in order to bridge the gender gap in the computer science field. The club is open to middle and high school-aged girls, who meet weekly to learn about the coding process, as well as have discussions about women in technology and hear presentations from professionals in the field.
The grant will allow Gavin to purchase new supplies for the club, which will include a programmable drone and car. In addition to using these tools with the Girls Who Code Club this fall, Gavin plans to use them at outreach events sponsored by UW-Platteville’s Women in Engineering, Mathematics and Science Program, such as Pioneering Your Future and Women in STEM Career Day.
“It is a great honor to be a recipient of this grant,” said Gavin. “The Platteville Community Fund is a charitable endowment created to give back to the Platteville community in the form of grants. The grants are awarded to support community projects and programs that help make the community a better place.”
Gavin hopes her program achieves this by empowering girls in the club to gain confidence in a male-dominated field.
“Women traditionally are raised to be ‘perfect’ and to not want to admit to making a mistake,” said Gavin. “Computer programming is learned by trial and error, and by making mistakes. In order to create a better gender balance in the computer science field, we need to start by providing opportunities for young women to come together and create a community where they feel safe, and where they can build their self-confidence and self-efficacy with programming languages. We are empowering young women to where they are confident enough to know that it’s okay to make a mistake and to learn from their mistakes.”
Key to helping the young women do this are the seven UW-Platteville students who serve as mentors for the club.
“This club would not run without the help from undergraduate women computer science and software engineering college student mentors,” said Gavin. “These women attend the meetings to support the girls in the club. They pair with the girls one-to-one to provide a mentoring relationship to help build confidence and make the girls feel like they are a part of a community. The mentors serve as role models, helping the girls learn about the coding process – how to design, code and debug in a programming language. They also serve to demystify the computer science culture and provide support.”
To learn more about the Girls Who Code club in Platteville, visit www.uwplatt.edu/youth/girls-who-code.