I started the year in a bleak place. My personal life had turned upside down and I was struggling to feel okay, much less find joy or meaning or purpose. As the days progressed one of the decisions I made was that I needed to start trying things. I needed to engage with the world instead of hiding myself away. I needed to start saying yes.
Shortly after this realization, maybe a week or two, I went to a women in tech meetup in Madison. One of the women there was a mentor for a local Technovation team. She was looking for a mentor for two middle school teams participating in ProjectCSGIRLS. The idea was that the girls on these teams would work together to build an app using MIT’s Android-based App Inventor. I recognized my moment. I said yes.
I checked in with my supervisor and he was okay with me leaving early on Fridays given that I made up those hours during the course of the week. So from January through late March I hopped in my car and headed to the Edgewood School to talk to two teams of three girls apiece about their projects.
The very first week we talked about scope and timeline and how to select a doable concept. One week I brought in a project management one pager and talked about I used that type of document in my work. They laughed, I laughed, and we ate some incredible snacks – in the computer lab of all places (and naturally, I felt pangs of jealousy that I could not even openly bring food into my workplace). Sometimes they would email me things to look at and I would provide feedback. Often, though, it was me showing up and providing a second opinion or word of encouragement. They were incredibly self-motivated and tended to work things out amongst themselves.
One memorable week we went on a field trip to Epic Systems, the healthcare software company located just outside Madison. The story of Epic and its female founder served as an inspiration to the girls and we all wandered through the sprawling campus, awed.
Earlier this month they gave their final presentation to parents and loved ones at the Department of Administration in downtown Madison. I sat in the front row just beaming, giddy with pride. The Technovation team went first, then Bully Hotspot, then Check My Backpack.
I particularly loved hearing the Q&A. You could see the spark in the girls, the excitement, as they answered questions about their work. One of the girls on the Technovation team was a sixth grader. She was clearly already awesome, having signed on for this project with seventh and eighth graders. She was the last one to share her response and in a quiet but clear voice she said, “The best part was just knowing that I had been part of something amazing.” The words just fell out of her mouth and you could feel how much she meant them. Heartstrings tugged! And who’s cutting onions anyway?
In all honesty, hearing the girls’ positive reflections really had an affect on me. Maybe that sounds sappy but it ties into how we want students to feel, girls to feel (both generally and also about tech), human beings to exist. It’s straight up magic when you feel that you’ve been part of something amazing! And we lose that as adults in the day to day grind of our lives and our jobs.
By the time my teams gave their presentations and gave me a shout out, then passed me a small gift, then huddled together for a photo I was basically thrumming with excitement. The best part was seeing how much they all LIKED each other and hearing them remember how much fun they had. The seventh graders were raring to do it again next year.
The best news? Both ProjectCSGirls teams, Bully Hotspot and the Backpack Packing App, were selected as regional winners! They are headed to Washington DC soon to present their projects.