Before there was a high performance computing center in Holyoke, there was Girls Inc. This innovative non-profit designed especially for the empowerment of young women has been breaking ground in tech based education for years. Sarah Dunton, Director of Youth Development Programs, says that prior to STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) being trendy, the participants at Girls Inc. were engaging in the Operation SMART (Science, Math And Relevant Technologies) program.
I met with Sarah to learn about the buzz of innovation at Girls Inc. Their IT curriculum, Build IT, impressed me immediately, but that is just the beginning. Two years ago, Sarah made a commitment to involving the girls in MIT’s “Scratch” program. She attended Scratch Meet-ups in Boston and trained her STEM Program Coordinator in the tool. Scratch is a programming language created by the Lifelong Kindergarden Group of the MIT Media Lab that makes it easy for students to create interactive stories, animations, games, music, art- any web based project and teaches students mathematical and computational ideas. Through this program, Girls Inc. girls learned the basics of game development and created their own to share with the Scratch community.
More recently, Girls Inc. has been working to increase their capacity to offer engineering and robotics programs for girls. Girls use the LEGO Mindstorm kits and software to bring robots to to life. Four Girls Inc. staff have been trained in the use of Mindstorm kits to help the girls build their own robots. The goal is to launch a team that will compete in the FIRST LEGO League”- a robotics competition for students. Sarah proudly describes the first year where their girls were designing robots that could park themselves in a parking lot using the same technology that say, Ford Motor Company uses to innovate its own vehicles. Most recently a celebration of their accomplishments was held at the MGHPCC, where John Goodhue had a chance to interact with the robot building process.
The MGHPCC is very familiar to the young women at Girls Inc. Since its construction began, Girls Inc. participated in an afternoon mentoring program with Turner Construction. Eight female professionals who were engaged in building the MGHPCC shared their experiences with Girls Inc. Sarah heard her students discuss new career aspirations. Conversations about nursing have diversified to include engineering and architecture.
Sarah says this work is paying off. The college attendance rate of the young women graduating from Girls Inc. continues to increase every year. The challenges ahead are good challenges to have. Sarah says that Girls Inc. now has to incorporate innovation into their brand, making it a part of the culture of everything they do. The HID folks know that in the near future, it will be a Girls Inc. alum managing their own research at the MGHPCC.