By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO

For Danielle Anane,16, the Girls Who Code summer immersion program went beyond getting the tools she needs to eventually major in computer engineering

Sisterhood emerged as another benefit throughout the seven-week program.

“Meeting the girls that have the same interests as me, that’s the highlight, and coding,” said Anane of Silver Spring. “I made a lot of friends and hopefully we’re still keeping in contact after the program is over.”

Gabrielle Coleman shaking hands with instructors from the Girls Who Code program on graduation day. (Photo by Micha Green)

Girls Who Code is a nonprofit that supports and grooms women for careers in computer science. It aims to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what programmers traditionally look like and do.

“It’s a great opportunity for the girls to see who they can be,” said Dedra Eatmon, site leader for Girls Who Code.

According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up half of the U.S. college-educated workforce, but just 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce, with women of color representing less than one in 10 employed scientists and engineers.

The free summer immersion program ended Aug. 9 with a graduation for the 20 high-school girls at the AT&T Forum for Technology, Entertainment & Policy in Washington, D.C. — the telecom giant has given Girls Who Code more than $4.3 million since 2012. The summer immersion program has been around the District since 2013, said Claudia Jones, AT&T’s senior vice president of public affairs and global communications.

The girls spent their seven weeks working in groups to design website prototypes aiming to solve a particular problem. For example, one of the groups designed a site that helps students find internships, study abroad programs and scholarships.

Another group crafted a website that finds local activities for couples with the tagline: “You pick the mate, we pick the date.” Another website the girls designed helped the user find places to eat — the girls plan to complete the websites so that they actually function.

Over the summer, the girls — six of whom are Black —  learned how to code in various programming languages including HTML, CSS, Scratch, Arduino, Java Script and Python.

They also met women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, took part in a hackathon where they presented their completed projects to members of Congress, visited the Federal Communications Commission and Capitol Hill where they talked to women there about careers in the tech industry and learned about their own possible career paths in computer science during a panel discussion featuring mentors from AT&T, Microsoft, and others.

In doing so, AT&T is creating a pipeline for women it can tap into when it’s time to hire, whether it’s for internships or actual employment opportunities.

“I can say it’s self-serving,” Jones told the AFRO. “We think diversity’s really important — diversity of thought and diversity of gender. In order to have that, you need to have women in your organization.”

Seeing other successful women in tech inspired Ruth Alemu, 16, to major in computer science after she graduates from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 2020.

In her view, computer science allows you to create anything you can think of — your thoughts actually become physical and real.

The most important lesson Alemu learned over the summer was perseverance.

“Just work together, help others and the same will happen to you too,” Alemu said. “And if you have challenges, just try again and again to get through it. And you will.”