I first got interested in engineering and technology 30 years ago when I was in 5th grade. My teacher taught and inspired us to program a computer, and it was the first time I used technology to create something. Seven years later I was on my way to MIT to study engineering.
Unfortunately, that’s unusual for a girl from the Pacoima neighborhood of Los Angeles, where I grew up. Pacoima is a high-poverty, majority-Latino community in the Northeast San Fernando Valley about 25 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. More than half of adults have less than a high school diploma, and 60% of women work in service or office support occupations, resulting in very few female career role models for Latina girls. Additionally, since less than 1% of engineers in the country are Latina, girls in my community like other Latino communities don’t have access to female engineering and technology role models.
Last year, I went back to my elementary school to start the DIY Girls afterschool program. My school offered a classroom space and lots of support for the program. With help from volunteers, friends and teachers, I converted the classroom into a makerspace for girls, recruited our first cohort of participants, and was ready to get started!
The DIY Girls Program Model
DIY Girls provides a continuous pathway of support to a technical career for girls from 5th grade to high school graduation. We help girls develop a mindset of self-sufficiency and learning by doing. DIY Girls aims to have an effect on girls as they enter adolescence and start to form career interests. Our program starts with fifth grade girls, a time when girls begin to lose confidence in their abilities.
Our program model integrates three factors to ensure girls’ success:
- Engagement – We start off serving 5th grade girls with an intensive afterschool program held at our classroom makerspace twice a week for the school year. Our program provides engagement, excitement, and exposure to creating with technology. Girls design and make toys, program their own video games, design creative inventions with conductive paint, and make wearable electronics products. Our projects are relevant and provide motivation to want to learn technical skills.
- Capacity Building – Our girls make real things. They learn practical technical skills that can be applied creatively. If you walk into our space you’ll see 30 girls coding, soldering, building electronic circuits, using a 3D printer, and building with power tools. Girls are learning by doing. They’re gaining confidence and practical in-demand skills for 21st century careers.
- Continuity – We aim to provide a continuous pathway to success. From 5th grade to 12th grade, we plan to connect girls to opportunities to gain more technical and leadership skills and introduce them to career options while providing guidance to support their advancement. We also give girls an opportunity to mentor younger kids as they go through our program.
In the next seven years, we aim to build a continuum of services for the girls that started our program as 5th graders. Each year we will add 30 girls to the program. On the first day of our 5th grade program, I tell the girls, “Welcome to day 1 of 200,” because we plan to see them at least 200 times until they graduate high school. We’re not a one-time program or event. We plan to engage them with technology, build their skills, and continue supporting them until they finish high school and are college- or career-ready.
Building a Community
While DIY Girls aims to increase the number of girls entering technology careers in the future, we also want to increase the number of women in the technology field in the short-term. We run a meetup group that offers women in the Los Angeles area an opportunity to learn hands-on technical skills. From coding to woodworking, our group offers opportunities to meet like-minded women while learning new skills. Many women who are members of the group are interested in getting into the tech sector and have continued their development and training after being inspired by one of our events. Some of the women in the group have also volunteered in our program for girls!
We welcome ideas and help to grow our organization. We would love to connect with volunteers, educators, makers, tech professionals and others interested in our programs. To keep up with our work, follow us on Twitter or like our Facebook page.