Lawrence Livermore is celebrating nearly a decade of bringing the Girls Who Code (GWC) program to local middle and high schools. Since standing up the effort in 2016, more than 900 students have participated in the clubs.
The local Girls Who Code clubs are unique collaborations between the national nonprofit program, the Tracy and Livermore school districts, and LLNL. The Girls Who Code national program provides training and activities to volunteer "facilitators" from the Laboratory who visit the school sites once a week to work through the curriculum. The schools provide the facilities, equipment, and a science teacher to help coordinate the club's activities.
While the volunteer facilitators’ responsibilities are designed to be minimal, the growing program requires the efforts of more than 40 volunteers from around the Laboratory each year to keep up with the demand. The program has grown from 7 clubs at Livermore schools at its inception to 17 clubs at schools in both Tracy and Livermore today.
"This is one of several initiatives Computing pursues to expand the pool of technology workers by increasing access and exposure to computing," says Marisol Gamboa, Computing workforce manager. "In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24%. We need more women studying computer science to change the face of the industry."
New Initiatives Supplement the Traditional Clubs
The bread and butter of Livermore’s Girls Who Code program has stayed consistent over the years, but occasionally a new initiative is introduced to supplement the traditional clubs. For example, students have been invited to day trips to IBM and Workday, as well as to a 3D printing workshop at LLNL. New to the outreach program this year was the addition of the Altamont Connection, an event in the spring that brought a dozen club participants from both Tracy and Livermore to the Laboratory for a day of STEM immersion and networking. Gamboa says there are plans to bring another Altamont Connection GWC group, including middle school students, back to the Lab in 2024.
Another recent supplement to Livermore’s Girls Who Code experience was the addition of summer internships in 2023, specifically offered to three graduating high school students who had previously been members of local GWC clubs.
“Our scholar program is an important and successful pipeline for our computing workforce,” says Jennie Wright, Computing’s Scholar Program administrator. “Offering a targeted summer internship to some of our Girls Who Code participants was a logical next step to grow these relationships.”
The participants selected for this inaugural opportunity were Kris Brothers, Harshitha Sarathy, and Maili Malabey, graduates of Livermore and Tracy high schools, respectively. As with all Computing scholars, the trio were matched with LLNL mentors who provided relevant project work, hands-on experience, and encouragement along the way.
“The Lab was a wonderful work environment. I interacted with people from all sorts of backgrounds, working on all sorts of things, but equally passionate about what they do. I’m so grateful for the experience,” says Sarathy, who, along with Brothers, spent the summer building an Arm64 v8 assembler from scratch using machine code and binary patching.
Malabey reports a similarly successful outcome from her time at the Lab, working on the LLNL Independent Diagnostic Scoring System (LIDSS) flight testing project. LIDSS is a deployable suite of rafts, unmanned aerial vehicles, cameras, hydrophones, and radar used to gather remote sensed data for flight tests in the deep ocean. To support the project, Malabey developed image processing techniques and a graphical user interface to help analysts more efficiently and quickly identify elements of interest among vast optical data collected during a mission.
Malabey started college this fall, but says she often thinks about her LLNL experience. “Within the first two weeks of college, I found myself using skills I picked up during my internship,” she says. “Although there is an evident lack of diversity in most of my STEM classes, I've joined clubs with the goal of changing that for future generations. Growing up, I never considered a STEM career path as something I could do. It's important for young girls to know they have that option.”