About four years ago, I decided that I wanted to start helping out more in the technical community. I had already been running three professional user groups for folks in my region to meet and talk about what the latest tech trends were, but I wanted to do something more influential.
My teenage son and daughter were both getting more and more interested in computers and technology, but I was noticing a marked difference in attendance at some of the summer camps and other STEM events that they were attending. The attendance at these events was overwhelming male and my daughter was feeling a little out of place at times. After a little research, I found out that this is sadly all too common and as a result, there is a drastic need for more women in STEM. For this reason, my daughter and I decided to get involved with an organization called TechGirlz and started running our own STEM events specifically directed at young ladies in the critical middle school age demographic. Research has shown that it's at this time in their lives that they tend to lose interest in STEM.
So, for the last three years, my daughter and I have been running what's called TechShopz in a Box.
These workshops allow us to quickly learn a technology, and then turn around and teach that technology to the group of girls that we are working with - in our case, members of the local Boys & Girls Club. The girls were cautious at first, but once they were given the chance to understand the concepts, they embraced the technology and quickly gained confidence and began asking questions, demonstrating a thirst for more. This was very encouraging to see.
"There's a whole segment of the population that we need to get and keep involved." - David Patrick
Following that, I did a TEDx talk on how these girls and their enthusiasm inspire me daily to continue doing these workshops, how they have re-ignited my own excitement about technology (for example, making and playing games created using Microsoft's Kodu platform), and how their exuberance about technology has made me realize that there's a whole segment of the population that we need to get and keep involved, simply because they are so passionate about STEM.
What I'd like folks to take away from my experience volunteering with TechGirlz is that you will get way more than you bargained for from the experience. Initially, I thought I'd just help out a little bit, get a few more people curious about STEM, and maybe learn a little something new myself. But the truth is that there's no greater reward than hearing from these young ladies later in life, telling us how they've changed their education course based on the workshops they attended. Two of the ladies told us that they choose to attend STEM-focused high schools and pursue studies in Computer Science, just based on their experiences with us. One girl even told us she is attending college, when she previously had no plans to. And all of the girls ask when the next workshop will be, as they are eager to investigate the next subject. Their enthusiasm and their excitement is lasting and makes me and the rest of the volunteers feel like we are doing important work and are actually making a difference.
Please consider volunteering - I guarantee that you will not regret it, and you will come out on the other side all the better for it!