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Challenge: Back to School 2021

Sisters Stepping Up To Help

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A few days ago I was introduced to the co-founders of Code Your Chances. They were brought to my attention by my friend Stephanie Burns who shared that I just needed to connect with them.

Fast-forward and there I was on a facetime call learning more about how Gabrielle and Dominique are helping girls apply their unique talents and creativity to tech. They do this through their non-profit Code Your Chances which introduces girls to potential computer science careers at a very young age.

Here's a glimpse into the inspiring work they are doing.

Gabrielle can you tell me more about where the idea for Code Your Chances came from?
It came from my own experience as a female in computer science. I wasn't introduced to computer science as a kid, which is pretty typical for many young girls. So, when I decided to study computer science as a college student it was a tough road for me to navigate. I felt like my late exposure to computer science just amplified my imposter syndrome. I was consistently one of the only girls in my class which did impact my confidence. Gratefully I pushed through and now work at the forefront of an exciting new computer science topic: virtual production. But my college experience stuck with me and I want to make sure other young girls get exposed earlier to computer science.

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Dominique I know there are a lot of non-profits out there addressing the gender-gap in coding - what does Code Your Chances do differently?
We focus on the creative uses of computer science such as how it is used in movies and video games, or how AI can be used to protect animals and create art. Many organizations are working to teach girls how to program, but these initiatives only reach girls who have already decided to try coding. Code Your Chances believes the root cause of the gender gap in computer science is not a lack of opportunities for coding education, but rather a lack of interest among young girls to pursue these opportunities. Code Your Chances works to address this problem by teaching girls that coding can be used for fun and artistic projects, and that all types of people can and should learn to code.

I know you work in the film industry Gabrielle, do you feel like the work you're doing at Code Your Chances will help with the gender-gap in your industry? Absolutely. The focus Code Your Chances places on the creative uses of computer science is more relevant than ever because the media we consume influences how we see the world. Big blockbuster films are largely created using VFX and virtual production, fields which increasingly require a technical background. The widening gender gap in computer science is also going to contribute to a widening gender gap in the film industry, which will in turn impact what ends up on our screens. When we are successful with our mission, I will see more females in this industry.

Can you both break down exactly what Code Your Chances does?
Sure! Code Your Chances provides creative computer science education for girls ages 9-14. We offer both virtual and in-person workshops that introduce coding fundamentals and how they can be applied to creative mediums such as game development and visual effects. Our interactive workshops always include a game or guided coding, so that the students leave feeling confident in their abilities.

Also can you tell me some of the successes so far?
All of our workshops are fun and rewarding, but there is something particularly special about reaching girls who may not have otherwise had such an opportunity. Some of our most challenging circumstances have been providing our workshops to students who attend schools without computer or wifi access, such as in India or the Philippines. One of our successes has been learning how to effectively mitigate these circumstances and deliver a full workshop to such students. The follow-up testimonials and reports we receive from these schools show us we are able to make a real impact on the way these girls view the world and their future.

Our favorite mini win is receiving emails from parents and teachers to tell us their students were inspired by our workshop to continue their computer science education. These never get old!

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Where do you see Code Your Chances in 6 months?
In six months, the free Code Your Chances augmented reality app will be expanded to include virtual reality lessons and activities. We will also have launched Code Your Chances clubs at several universities making it possible for current computer science majors to conduct CYC workshops in their local areas to engage new communities. We also hope to soon announce corporate sponsorships which will provide Code Your Chances access to exciting new technology to use in our workshops and engage students in the creative side of tech.

I have a feeling people will be inspired when they learn about what you do. How can they support your work or get involved?
Volunteers who are studying computer science in college or working in tech fields can apply on our website (www.codeyourchances.com/apply) to be workshop teachers, and interested high school students can apply to serve on our Youth Leadership Board. Parents or educators of girls ages 9-14 can contact us through our website to schedule a CYC workshop at their school, and learn how our free applications can help bring computer science education into their classrooms!

I know you both have other jobs outside of Code Your Chances, so do you have any advice for others who might think they are too busy to start something?
We would say team up with other people who share your vision and go for it! Code Your Chances started out as a passion project long before we officially incorporated as a non-profit. We began running workshops because we cared about the issues we were trying to solve and because we thought we could truly make a difference. Our first workshops were in rural India, working with girls who had never used a computer before in their lives. By the end of our time with them, they were able to code a rudimentary site in HTML. These were girls that did not have many opportunities to explore new interests or to assert their independence, and the experience was as life changing for us as it was for them. Although Code Your Chances has evolved a lot in the years since, we will never forget the smiles of our first students.

Thanks for chatting with me - anything else you’d like to share?
We want to remind any young entrepreneurs reading this that setbacks can often be launch pads in disguise. When Covid started forcing schools and community centers to close we, like so many organizations, had to completely rethink how we reached students. Engaging young girls hands-on in a virtual format seemed like a setback. Finding opportunities to connect with students during a time when educators were struggling to deliver their standard curriculum and students faced ‘zoom fatigue’ felt like a setback. In reality, these challenges gave us the opportunity to innovate and be more effective than ever. We have now developed two free-for-use apps that have become valuable tools in both our in-person and our virtual workshops. What seemed like a setback was really a launching pad to produce scalable, creative solutions. So don’t get discouraged!

You can learn more about Code Your Chances (www.codeyourchances.com) and stay up-to-date with opportunities through our Instagram @codeyourchances.

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