Forty girls and their teachers spent the final week of February at CodeCrush, a program hosted by the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Women in IT initiative, hosted at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Peter Kiewit Institute. Among them were La Vista Junior High School eighth-grader Kayla Steffes and media specialist Melissa Moore.

The program, in its third year, is geared toward providing eighth- and ninth-grade girls with exposure to careers in computer science.

“It’s a program to get girls more involved in coding, since coding is a more male-dominated career,” Kayla said.

Moore said the beauty of the program is that while many people think coding is solely focused on gaming, this program shows how coding and computer science relate to various fields including music, fashion and business.

To participate, Kayla had to submit an essay for consideration.

Her interest in coding began last year, when she joined the school’s Coding Club in an effort to try something new.

From there, her interest grew, deciding to apply to participate in CodeCrush, as well as signing up for a digital media class in an effort to expand her knowledge.

Throughout the four-day event, both Kayla and Moore attended classes on a variety of topics of their own choosing. Kayla chose courses in IT innovation, music and mobile app development. Moore also studied IT innovation and using computer science in the classroom.

They also heard from guest speakers, both professional women and current students, and spent time visiting IT startup businesses and Do Space, even making a visit to the zoo to see how IT is used there.

The event also allowed students in attendance to connect with and relate to girls with similar interests, while teachers from various districts got the chance to meet.

Kayla said the biggest lesson for her was to see all of the careers available to someone with a coding background. She also earned a $1,000 scholarship to UNO while there.

“I never really coded before seventh grade,” Kayla said. “It really showed me that a lot of people are really willing to help the next generation of girls get involved in coding. It really gave a new perspective to it.”

Kayla said she also enjoyed the fact that classes were offered to teachers as well, as some of them may not have coded before and may be looking to implement a coding program at their own schools.

Moore said the exploration of all of the different career opportunities in coding-related work, along with UNO’s “fantastic” program, the numerous internships and opportunities available to even high school students, were the highlights of the program for her.

“How to bring computer science into the middle school level was talked about a lot,” Moore said.

She hopes to use that knowledge to work with teachers in the general subjects — math, for example — to incorporate computer science into more classes, rather than simply making it a standalone subject.

“I thought it was an excellent program,” Moore said.

“For UNO to have sponsorships to be able to provide this experience for all these girls is just wonderful. It’s such a great way to broaden horizons and to get more minorities into coding and computer science.”

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