This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Learning to code can seem daunting to young teens, but Carver High School of Engineering & Science freshman Trevor Gardner offers this advice: “Go for it. Even though it seems intimidating, it isn’t. And you could find a passion.”
In December 2017, Gardner attended her first program with TechGirlz, a nationwide nonprofit that provides free workshops called “TechShopz” to middle school girls, with the goal of inspiring them to pursue futures in technology.
“It was kind of an easy start to programming and made me feel like maybe I could do this,” recalled Gardner, who was then a student at Cedar Grove Christian Academy.
Gardner, 14, has completed more than 20 TechShopz since then and recently was appointed to the 11-member TechGirlz Northern Teen Advisory Board.
Gardner discovered TechGirlz after attending the Pennsylvania Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement summer program hosted at Temple University.
“I’d heard about technology getting more popular, and it sounded like something I might want to do in college,” she said. “I hadn’t had any computer classes or coding classes or anything, so it really opened me up to it.”
Wanting to pursue her newfound interest in technology further, she came across the TechGirlz website. The first one-day workshop she completed focused on the coding language Python. It was held at Drexel University, the alma mater of TechGirlz founder Tracey Welson-Rossman, who is the chief marketing officer at the Philadelphia-based software development and consulting firm Chariot Solutions.
From then on, Gardner said, “I was kind of constantly in a program. I even went to the summer programs.”
In the summer of 2018, she attended a weeklong session focused on building robots. “It was challenging, but helped develop my skills in programming, robotics, and software,” she said.
Her team made a robot that could detect objects in front of it and decide whether to move right or left.
“Going to the summer program, I had a group of people I worked with the whole week, and we became very close and still talk to this day,” she said.
Gardner used the robot project as the basis of a presentation as she interviewed for high schools. She decided to attend Carver because it lined up best with her goal of earning a college degree in biomedical engineering.
Currently, Gardner is involved in a local branch of the nonprofit Girls Who Code and plans to join Carver’s robotics club next year, having focused this year on her other passions at school – volleyball and swimming.
Once she started high school, she aged out of the TechGirlz programs, so she applied to the Teen Advisory Board as a way of staying involved with the organization.
“I was very excited to be part of the board, because I couldn’t do any more of the programs but could still be part of the organization that taught me so much about my passion,” she said.
As a member of the board, her responsibilities include attending monthly board meetings and three other programs or conferences this year, including the inaugural TechGirlz Girls-in-Tech Summit, an all-girls technology conference scheduled for April 25 at the Science History Institute, 315 Chestnut St., in Philadelphia.
She also is helping lead workshops, which are run by industry professionals and student volunteers. Having recently taught a workshop on making animated games using Scratch and Makey Makey programs, she is preparing for two more local workshops in February.
When asked what her ideal future for the tech world would be, Gardner, who is African American, said, “It would look like more diversity. Over the years, I’ve heard people talk about the industry now, which is still very male-dominated. I would also like to see more ethnicities represented.”
Programs like TechGirlz are helping drive this change, but community support is also extremely important to the success of young women like Gardner.
“My family supports and encourages what I do,” she said. “I feel like all my teachers have pushed and encouraged me to do things that I love and am passionate about.”
Upcoming TechGirlz Programs:
Make a website with HTML and CSS: Feb. 8, 1-4 p.m., Sharon Hill
Make your own voice app: Feb. 22, 2-5 p.m., Wilmington, Del.