The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City hosted more than 50 female students from Independence, Mo., middle and high schools for annual Girls in Tech KC event organized by the KC STEM Alliance on Dec. 5.

The students heard from leaders in technology from the Kansas City Fed as well as Martha McCabe, executive director of KC STEM Alliance. The speakers shared messages related to their own stories in computer science and encouraged the girls to follow their dreams.

The morning included an Hour of Code activity, as well, where students paired up to create an electronic dance party featuring music and animated characters.

Educator Jackie Becker with the Independence school district brought students from middle schools and Truman High School. This was her first year attending although the event has been hosted annually at the Bank since 2015.

“It’s so good for students to hear from girls in the field with successful careers,” Becker said. “Our middle schoolers were excited to come downtown to the Federal Reserve and connect with other girls and women in the field. For the high schoolers it was also the exposure to further career opportunities.

“They’re very passionate about this,” she said.

Sierra Hernandez, a senior at Truman High School, plans to study computer science at Avila next fall.

“I’m really excited to see so many girls here— it makes me really happy,” she said. “Out of my (computer science) class there are five girls.”

She hopes that the event inspires more women to enter the computer science field.

“I want more girls to realize it’s not all about ones and zeros,” she said. “To be offered at such a young age that computer science wants girls is great. I found out as a sophomore and I wish I’d had earlier exposure. It’s really great to see young girls getting into it.”

Two students work together on the computer to create an electronic dance party

Debbie Frobase, an educator at Pioneer Ridge Middle School, noted her school’s low ratio of girls to boys enrolled in technology classes and was hopeful that the experience would encourage more female students to pursue technology careers.

“The networking and exposure is amazing,” she said. “They see mentors everywhere and some already want to do this as their field.”

Lily Schraml, a Pioneer Middle School student, is one of the students who sees a future for herself in technology. She learned about computer coding as a fourth grader and has continued to build her skillset.

“It just sounds interesting to me, the idea of computers and coding,” she said. “In my coding class I was always ahead of everyone, I thought, maybe that’s just how my brain works.”

Schraml studies modeling and design and is hoping to learn more advanced coding systems, such as JavaScript. She also wants to encourage her friends to give coding a try.

“I’d say they should check it out,” Schraml said. “Girls can do as much as guys can. It’s a fun experience.”

Sarita Gupta, a Kansas City Fed employee in a technology area, served as a mentor for the pairs as they worked through their coding exercise. She hoped the event would build the confidence of young coders and help them see a future career in technology. She likes the idea of offering a low-risk way to pursue computer science as an interest and build resilience for the field.

“Every day is a new challenge, so be prepared,” she advised the students. “It can be difficult in certain ways, don’t give up.”

Martha McCabe, executive director of KC STEM Alliance, enjoyed watching the teams at work and helping the students explore the idea that computer programming doesn’t have to be done in isolation. She highlighted aspects of the programming activity that would help the students develop skills beyond computer science.

“The girls decide the song, so there are negotiations, sharing ideas, developing camaraderie,” McCabe said. “What they do during the school day follows them to the workforce. The girls come from different backgrounds, we want them to understand that each individual brings different experiences, which will create a better outcome. It’s a simple thing.”

Nalrah Davis, a student Nowlin middle school, feels like a role model to younger girls interested in programming. She plans to encourage her younger sister to pursue coding when she is old enough. Her best advice to young coders?

“Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it,” she said.