When Maryland Girl Scout Anupama sees a cycle that’s problematic, she breaks it.
Which is exactly what she did when earning her Gold Award. Her project focused on making introductory coding classes more accessible to students of color—something she was passionate about as a female and person of color with her own interest in coding.
“The root cause of my issue is that there has been a long-lasting belief in society that minority groups do not have the proper knowledge nor ability to be members of or pursue interests in the STEM field,” says Anupama. “This causes them to not be included or considered for STEM opportunities, which becomes a systemic cycle that can significantly impact one’s self-worth and their ability to be a contributing member of society.”
“From the pre-assessment students took, there was a drastic change from the level of knowledge students possessed regarding the topics mentioned in the class content,” says Anupama. “Students indicated high levels of basic to proficient understanding of all the discussed concepts. They also all said they were likely-very likely to participate in another coding opportunity after the classes.”
Anupama’s students said they were grateful for the opportunity to learn to code but they were also grateful to make new friends through the course. To keep students in touch, Anupama utilized Slack, a messaging app, as a digital space for everyone to use following the class.
Students were also connected to Kerala Cultural Society, an organization connecting North American Malayalee Asian-Indians living in the USA, and Sisters of Computer Science, a group for female and nonbinary elementary and middle school students interested in coding. By connecting students to both organizations, Anupama is ensuring that more women of color can explore STEM career opportunities and make contacts.
Anupama’s coding class also became part of each organization’s curriculum or activities offered. “Sisters of Computer Science is offering the classes in batches throughout the year on a rolling basis to their students,” she says. “This means that my classes will become a part of their system and that they will be happening several times a year. The Kerala Cultural Society of Metropolitan Washington incorporated my classes into their annual youth summer camp, which will have a large impact on minority, and even international, communities.”
Introducing the next generation to coding was a rewarding experience, but Anupama says the experience taught her a few things as well.
“Through this experience, I learned that I truly enjoy teaching and spreading my knowledge to others in a way that helps them with their future work,” she says. “I was able to understand the value of education, something which I believe I took for granted before this endeavor. I also learned that I am a natural leader, as I was successfully able to organize all aspects of this project and delegate work and tasks to teammates by asking for help when it was needed.”
She expects that students who experience her coding classes through the Kerala Cultural Society and Sisters of Computer Science will continue to become excited about exploring STEM fields. She also knows her Gold Award project will continue to change the narrative about STEM being less accessible to students of color.
“By taking small steps to get more children and diverse sets of individuals involved in the STEM field, we are creating a future that represents people from all walks of life who will work to serve all of society,” she says. “In the future, I hope to use all the skills and understandings I developed through earning the Gold Award and implement them to serve those around me, particularly those populations which are underserved and underrepresented in our society so that I can function to create positive change by working to eliminate this cycle of oppression.”
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