As fewer women earn college degrees in careers such as computer science, Delaware state agencies are seeking to spark girls' interest in these fields.
Females earned 15,129 undergraduate computer science degrees in the 1985-86 school year, but that number dropped significantly to just 7,179 in the 2009-10 year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The Delaware Education Department and Department of Technology and Information are hoping that events such as DigiGirlz will help spark a turnaround. The two state agencies, the Delaware Center of Educational Technology and Microsoft co-sponsored the event for 150 eighth- and ninth-grade girls on Tuesday, May 1 on the Wilmington University-Dover campus.
State and private-sector leaders are trying to bust myths that girls often believe about science, technology, engineering and math.
"'Math and science is too hard,' and 'a technology career is not for me,' and 'I don't want to be labeled a geek' — those were the things that we tried to dispel yesterday," said Elayne Starkey, chief security officer for the Delaware Department of Technology and Information, on Wednesday, May 2.
The girls listened to keynotes from the first female CEO of DuPont, Ellen Kullman; and Lillian Lowery, Delaware secretary of education. Both of them talked about technology and gave general career advice.
"I certainly don't expect 150 girls to pursue technology careers, but we did try to encourage them to think hard about what you love to do and figure out a way to turn that into a job. Because those are the kinds of jobs where you love to get up every morning and go to work," Starkey said.
The girls programmed robots in teams and competed against one another. Throughout the day, they were exposed to many of the skills that technologists need: programming, logic and critical thinking.
Computer science has given Starkey herself the opportunity to be innovative and creative. When she went into computer science, only a few other women were in her classes or were co-workers at her first job.
Along with stints in the private sector, she has been working for the state for the past 15 years. In her government role, she uses her skills for public service projects such as making roadways and highways safer and making prisons more secure.
"You're not able to sit back and say, 'Wow, I've completed all my education' because the technology changes so quickly, and that keeps things interesting and energizing for everybody."
This story originally appeared in our sister publication, Converge.