OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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ChickTech Empowers High-School Girls to Explore Technology

“Be bold. Have fun,” was the advice from keynote speaker and Oregon State computer science alumnus, Hannah Adams, at the ChickTech event hosted at Oregon State University on Saturday, November 9, 2013.

Her advice captured the spirit of the event which encourages high-school girls to enter technology fields. The brainchild of Oregon State alumnus, Janice Levenhagen-Seeley, ChickTech is a Portland-based organization focused on building a multi-generational community of women in technology.  

“It was hard to feel like I belonged as a woman in computer engineering. So I started ChickTech to give other girls and women the support that I didn’t have. I want them to feel like they are welcome and they have unique things that they are bringing to the industry,” Levenhagen-Seeley said.

The Oregon State workshop for 100 high-school girls was the second such event for ChickTech. Their first was a two-day workshop in Portland with follow-up sessions throughout the year. The Oregon State event, co-hosted by Oregon State’s Office of Women and Minorities in Engineering, was a one-day event to enable more participation by girls from rural areas. Through a nomination process from school teachers, invitations were sent to girls in Albany, Central Linn, Corvallis, Creswell, Elmira, Jefferson, Junction City, Lebanon, Monroe, Newport, Philomath, Sweet Home, Toledo, and Triangle Lake.  It was a free event including meals, and girls were provided transportation for anyone that needed it.

Volunteer helps with soldering“We try to make it a low barrier for entry so we can encourage girls to participate who have never had an opportunity like this before or who believe that tech is not for them,” said Jen Davidson, ChickTech program manager, and Oregon State computer science graduate student.

Levenhagen, Davidson and Adams all faced a male dominated work environment when they began working in industry. Whereas most other job sectors have seen increased participation by women, computer science is still lagging. Enrollment for women in undergraduate programs in computer science is 12.9 percent in North America according to the most recent report by the Computing Research Association.

“It’s a really big problem, and if we are not getting girls interested in high school or younger then these issues will still exist,” Davidson said. Their expansion plans include adding one new city a year, while repeating the Portland and Corvallis workshops as yearly events.

Workshops in web programming, object-oriented 3D programming, technology careers and circuits offered students at the Oregon State event hands-on experiences and exposed them to the many possibilities for careers in technology.

The event opened the eyes of McKenna Dickenson from Triangle Lake. “I thought in computer engineering you would sit at a desk all day and type away. It’s so different than that,” she said as she worked to finish her soft circuit project — a felt doll with a blinking LED light.

Volunteers from local technology companies, Oregon State graduate students, and undergraduates in science and engineering made up the 60 volunteers that did everything from lead the workshops, to give campus tours and pass out t-shirts. Davidson said there was so much interest in helping out that she had to put volunteers on a wait list.

Volunteer, Teresa Boes from Hewlett Packard said the workshops are about more than teaching a specific skill. “Learning how to solder is important, but this is really about problem solving. It’s not going to work the first time you put your circuit together, so then what are you going to do?” she said.

Hannah Adams was thrilled to come back to her alma mater to help boost the confidence of high school girls and be part of a program to open the doors for more women in technology. She told the girls that confidence is something she still works on even though she has a great job with Intel as a human factors engineer. “Every day I tell myself that I deserve this,” she said.