UNC Pembroke is empowering future American Indian women in STEM

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Girls Who Code
Members of UNC Pembroke's Girls Who Code (GWC) program. The club introduced 15 girls from the LTNC Boys and Girls Club (6th - 10th grade) to computer science.

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is building awareness and interest in STEM for women in Pembroke’s local American Indian community. In collaboration with the Lumbee Tribe and local Boys and Girls Club, UNC Pembroke established a Girls Who Code (GWC) program in Pembroke earlier this year to help middle school girls from the Lumbee Tribe learn computer coding skills and connect with female mentors working in the technology field.

“As a woman and Lumbee working in the technology field, I’ve seen first-hand the lack of women in the technology field – especially in our rural community,” said Kindra Locklear, IT Portfolio Coordinator at UNC Pembroke. “I wanted to provide an opportunity for the youth in our community to explore the technology field, foster their skills and help prepare them for a future in STEM.”

Designed to foster creativity, innovation and sisterhood, the 10-week program includes weekly coding sessions, mentorship from women in the technology field and a collaborative impact project that challenges the girls to use their new computer science skills to solve a real-world problem. For the first session, the girls wanted to tackle a major issue in their local community, so they built a website that provides local mental health resources. At the conclusion of this pilot session, the Pembroke chapter of GWC gifted the girls with a coding robot to help them continue to strengthen their coding and problem-solving skills.

“One of my favorite things about the program is that it’s empowering to me,” said Jahna Locklear, a participant in the Pembroke chapter of the GWC program. “Hearing from women in computer science careers really made me feel like I could do anything.”

The program has hosted many notable speakers since its inception, including:

· Dr. Angela McDonald, Interim Dean, College of Health Sciences, and Associate Professor, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, UNC Pembroke. Dr. McDonald discussed mental health – the topic of the first impact project.

· Dr. Erik Mitchell, The Audrey Geisel University Librarian, UC San Diego. Dr. Mitchell discussed several problems he’s encountered on the job that were solved with coding.

· April Whittemore-Locklear, Assistant Director of Employer Relations, UNC Pembroke. Whittemore-Locklear provided an overview of “Presentation Etiquette.”

· A CISCO database administrator, security researcher, project manager and software engineer from CISCO, who reviewed their job roles with the girls and the benefits of pursuing a career in the technology field.

“The turnout for the program has exceeded our expectations so far with a total of 15 girls from 6th to 10th grade participating in our program,” said Mary Beth Locklear, MPA, Director of the Office for Regional Initiatives at UNC Pembroke. “We hope to continue to grow and provide more opportunities, and, eventually, scale to include other schools. Our goal for 2020 is to add a new cohort to help support the program activities.”