This past week, I directed and coordinated a remote hackathon to teach middle school girls. Originally, the hackathon was supposed to take place on a single day from 9 AM until 3 PM. It would be a full day of coding with guest speakers and mentor. Once all on-campus activities were canceled due to COVID-19, my team and I were disappointed that all our planning and excitement would not be able to become a reality. While I was back at home, my friend and colleague reached out to suggest we hold a remote Hackathon over Zoom. I was on board right away and agreed to help plan an online hackathon. Instead of a single day, we decided to hold the hackathon over the course of a week and make it COVID-19 related. We opened up the application to recruit mentors from Emory. After recruitment, we held weekly meetings with mentors to plan out lessons and discuss logistics. I was seeing firsthand how challenging it is to deliver material and content over the internet; something professors and teachers had to figure out how to do in the course of two weeks or less.
While coordinating the remote hackathon had its own set of challenges, the payoff was extraordinary. Many of the girls were excited to have the chance to take part in such a program and use the skills they had learned before and during the hackathon to attempt to solve problems. Their work was amazing and it was lovely to see what middle schoolers were capable of doing in a few days at their age. I myself did not have any coding experience at their ages. I still don't, I was completely clueless, but they picked it up with ease.
The organization I am a part of, Citizen Science, has a mission to encourage minorities and under-represented groups. As a woman of color, I understand the importance of seeing someone who looks like you and shares a similar background in spaces that appear reserved for others. It makes it seem more possible to be in that role yourself. With Citizen Science's focus on minorities, especially young girls of different backgrounds, the impact on them can be seen in their excitement to continue learning and participating. STEM is viewed as a difficult field and when the confidence in science and math is low, it is much harder to become interested and want to pursue it in the future. Diversity and inclusivity is crucial in every field. In order to promote STEM among minorities and under-represented, it is essential to establish the skills and confidence necesssary to want to continue in a STEM career or field. It is critical to establish this early in order to develop their skills further and cement their confidence in the field.
I am glad I got to be a part of the remote hackathon and witness the joy and benefits of hosting such a program.