It is possible that the next great computer programmer who writes the code for the next Facebook or Twitter could be a young woman from Bluffton.
Bluffton’s Don Ryan Center for Innovation and the New York-based nonprofit organization Girls Who Code are joining forces to make that possibility a little more likely.
Girls Who Code, which provides free computer science training programs for young women in middle and high school, is starting a club this fall at the center.
The computer and technology industries “are some of the fastest growing industries and offer good, high paying jobs,” Loraya Harrington-Trujillo, Girls Who Code community programs manager, said Friday. “We want to make sure these girls have the same opportunities to learn (programming) skills as boys do.”
Only about 18 percent of college students who graduate with a computer science degree are women, according to data from Girls Who Code. In 1984, women represented 37 percent of computer science graduates.
“The gender gap is growing,” Harrington-Trujillo said.
We want to make sure these girls have the same opportunities to learn (programming) skills as boys do.
Loraya Harrington-Trujillo, Girls Who Code community programs manager
Girls Who Code clubs try “to foster an environment that builds sisterhood,” she said. “And we want it to be a rigorous but fun computer science experience where girls are able to learn a tangible skill that is relevant to the world they live in, regardless of where they live.”
Girls Who Code started in 2012 with 20 students. By the end of this year, the organization expects to have 40,000 graduates and operations in all 50 states, Harrington-Trujillo said.
It uses a projects-based curriculum that helps teach programming concepts through music, animation and games.
Bluffton’s new program will be the fourth Girls Who Code club open or in the process of opening in South Carolina, she said.
Greg Juedes, who spends part of the year in Bluffton and part of the year in New York, discovered Girls Who Code while searching for volunteer opportunities in New York.
“I figured it seemed like a good fit” for Bluffton, he said.
When he came back south, he reached out to Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and told her about the program.
Sulka said Girls Who Code sounded “very, very cool,” and she passed the information along to the leadership team at the Don Ryan Center.
The center, a partnership between the town of Bluffton and Clemson University, operates out of Buckwalter Place and serves as an incubator for start-up businesses.
David Nelems, the center’s executive director, said Friday the partnership “is perfect because we don’t have to start from scratch.”
The center already has the facilities, computers and equipment necessary to host a Girls Who Code club, he said.
Girls Who Code’s mission meshes very well with the center’s goals, Nelems said.
“When the Don Ryan Center started, it was just to help a small group of companies grow,” he said. “But it has to be more than that now — we are trying to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship all the way from middle school up.”
Nelems said he sees computer programming as a critical skill for future innovators and business leaders. Girls Who Code “fits nicely with our broader goal of engagement with the community and spurring innovation,” he said.
He compared learning coding skills with learning a second language.
“Middle school and high school students know that and know how important these skills are,” Nelems said.
The first club, which is expected to begin meeting around September, is already full. Those interested in joining can sign up for the waiting list at the Don Ryan Center’s website, ryan-innovation-center.com/girls-who-code.