On a sunny June evening in Omaha, a group of over 100 high school girls, a spattering of teachers, and a few other adults have gathered at The Mastercraft to hear Holly Rollins, a principal senior director at Booz Allen Hamilton, talk about critical thinking and trusting your gut. The room definitely feels different than your usual tech conference: there’s a significant lack of hoodies, people staring at their laptops, and the biggest difference – it’s mostly high school girls and women.
The CodeCrush Summit brings together individuals from all over the Midwest to celebrate diversity in IT. With a strong focus on high school aged girls, sessions range from building your own computer, leadership development, and building inclusive spaces. The Summit is part of a growing commitment the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) College of Information Science and Technology (IS&T) has towards making the I.T. sector a more diverse and welcoming space.
“I had so many great memories during [my time at] IS&T. There are so many new programs, which started during the last few years that will open many more doors for students. Learning the full breath of STEM programs help expend my perspective as well. There are so many wonderful career paths in the fields. Meanwhile, connecting with other ladies and learning their stories made it even more fun.” Keynote speaker and IS&T alumni, Jessica Zhang said. Zhang now works in marketing analytics at Slack, a communication tool company located in San Francisco.
CodeCrush is part of a series of events held by IS&T designed to help close the gender gap in IT. CodeCrush is made up of two different events: two Immersion Experiences during the school year and a conference-style Summit in the Summer.
“The Code Crush community provides such hope for girls interested in technology fields. The jobs truly are endless and cover every field they can imagine. I also have yet to bring girls home from Code Crush who haven't formed at least one new friendship with a girl from another school. Those relationships could prove to be invaluable in the future,” Heidi Beguin, a teacher from Rushmore, Nebraska said.
The Immersion Experience is highly competitive, drawing almost 200 applicants for 32 spots each semester. The students are required to bring a teacher with them for a 3-day camp where they take classes in a variety of different IT subjects such as cybersecurity, bioinformatics, mobile app development, and robotics. Teachers take separate sessions to learn how they can incorporate IT lessons into their curriculum once they return to their schools.
“The Immersion Experience became so competitive that it really highlighted the need for programs like this and made us realize that we’re not reaching hundreds of girls each year when they don’t make it into the program,” Amanda Rucker, communications specialist at IS&T and CodeCrush director. “The Summit was really born out of the idea that we needed a place for everyone to come together and celebrate IT. It’s not just girls for girls, we need an entire community fighting for this change.”
The Summit takes place over a day and a half in the Summer, inviting students from all over the Midwest. Unlike the Immersion Experience, students may attend without a teacher.
Students and teachers can visit the CodeCrush website to find out when the next Immersion Experience or Summit will be.