Enactus, a mission-oriented organization under the Southern Adventist University School of Business in Tennessee, United States, recognized that fewer women work in technology fields than men. In 2017, Enactus formed a project called Higher Tech Minded Ladies (HTML) to help solve this issue in the local community.
Statistics cited by catalyst.org show that in 2019, women accounted for about 29 percent of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industry-related workers around the globe. Accenture and Girls Who Code research shows that the number of women working in STEM fields has been gradually dropping since the 1990s. Members of the HTML project believe that STEM fields could use more women who are passionate about working in those industries. If this decline is not resolved soon, by 2025, the proportion of female computer scientists to their male counterparts will continue to drop from its present level of 24 percent.
An Option for Girls
According to the project supporters, HTML’s goal is to address this issue by showing middle-school-aged girls that a STEM career is an option. “Our mission is to facilitate opportunities for girls to enter the male-dominated world of technology through education, mentorship, and empowerment,” Emily Tant, HTML class coordinator, said. Lorena Alves, HTML head project manager, added, “We at HTML believe in educating girls at a younger age about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
Tant and Alves said that they hope girls will better understand STEM and cultivate various skills within those fields, such as problem solving, multitasking, communication skills, and logic. “In such areas as [these], girls will be able to understand STEM and cultivate different skills,” they explained. “Our students are more assertive, optimistic, and prepared for a technology-filled future after enrolling in our HTML class. In addition to developing these skills, our students learn how to apply these new skills to real-life problems in ways that benefit themselves and can help others in their community.”
Each academic semester at SAU, HTML helps recruit girls to attend class in the School of Business Computer Lab and study various subjects such as robotics, coding, physics, and graphic design. They learn how to navigate technology and use it in real-life situations like creating a website for a business, programming robots, or making apps for any purpose they choose.
“By learning to code, our students learn to tackle real-world problems and come up with creative solutions to fix them,” organizers explained. “They work hard for the things that they want without giving up. They learn to work through failure and to take life head-on, even with all of its challenges.”
Adapting to 2020
This past semester, due to COVID-19, classes were moved to Zoom. While people behind the initiative said they were initially disappointed by this, they discovered an interest in HTML classes beyond the local community. Zoom gave them the perfect opportunity to expand and teach new students from all over the United States.
“We have trained our students via Zoom on the basics of coding robots and how to build a mobile app,” Tant explained. “Each girl coded their app before the end of the semester. The girls develop their apps with a purpose; one girl developed a mental health awareness app to help others.”
HTML as Mission
The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive, the project organizers noted. “I like the social interaction with everyone else,” Racquel, one of the students, said. “It’s fun to see that people love coding just as much as I do.” Another student, Miscily, added, “I think the class is a good level for me to learn, and I am more interested in pursuing a career in the STEM fields now.”
For Alves, the initiative is based on principles found in the Gospels of the Bible. “According to the Bible, whenever Jesus came across a woman, He made her life better one way or another,” she said. “I feel like managing this project can be seen as a mission, as we work hard to empower, educate, and mentor young girls by making a difference in their lives today so that they can make a difference in the world tomorrow.”
Over the next few semesters, the HTML organization plans to continue instructing students on various STEM topics. “We want to introduce them to new concepts that will excite their curiosity and inspire them to learn everything they can about technology and STEM careers,” HTML coordinators said. “Over the next few years, we hope to increase the number of women who enter the STEM fields and to empower and inspire young ladies all around the world to follow their dreams and never let anything stand in their way.”
Southern Adventist University is a Seventh-day Adventist school in Collegedale, Tennessee, United States.