To get girls interested in STEM careers, two teachers in a Louisiana school district decided to start their own after-school club called Girls Who Game.
“Computer science is very, very under-taught,” said Allyson Turner, one of the teachers who sponsor the club, during a session at the 2022 International Society for Technology in Education conference in New Orleans.
In Louisiana, there are 2,677 open computing jobs, but only 574 computer science college graduates to fill those jobs, and only 23 percent of high schools teach the Advanced Placement Computer Science course, according to Turner. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that women represented 27 percent of STEM workers in 2019.
“The fundamental problem we’re trying to solve here is getting women involved in STEM,” Turner added.
Now with their third cohort at LeBlanc Middle School, Turner and her co-sponsor Jordan Allen have found that the program “opens [the girls’] imagination to everything that they could do in this world.”
Their club is part of the larger Girls Who Game program created in 2019 by Dell Technologies, in partnership with Microsoft and Intel. The program provides girls in grades 4-8 an opportunity to learn about STEM through gaming. The students use Minecraft, a 3D game where you can create anything, to learn skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity.
Every year, each club participates in challenges aligned to one or more of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Turner and Allen’s team won this year’s Girls Who Game People’s Choice Award for sustainable technologies. Their team focused on the oil and gas industry because all of their students have at least one family member who works in that industry. The students created a world in Minecraft that included concepts such as propane-powered vehicles, artificial intelligence, and zero-waste initiatives.
With Dell Technologies’ Girls Who Game program, the students also get to meet and be mentored by other women already working in a STEM field. Last year, Turner and Allen’s team met someone who studied international politics but ended up working for Microsoft and is in charge of making sure all the buttons in a video game will fit words in different languages when released in those languages.
After that meeting, the girls realized that they don’t necessarily have to be a videogame designer, that they can do other jobs in the STEM industry, Allen said.
There is also a Girls Who Game curriculum, which Turner and Allen started using with their last cohort. Their school has a specific STEM Academy but only students accepted into that program can attend those classes. Turner and Allen wanted to bring STEM to other students, so they started an elective class that uses the Girls Who Game curriculum.