National tech program promotes skills

By From page B2 | August 19, 2013

Entrepreneurship and confidence are two terms not usually associated with teenage girls but a new program that envisions gender parity in computing fields may be changing that perspective.

With only 160 young women chosen nationwide to participate in the program, Golden Sierra High School senior Violet Dressler-Zimmerman, 17, is one of those young women.

“It is an eight-week program and we just finished our fifth week,” said the Greenwood resident, who travels to University of California, Davis for her participation. “I have no idea why I was chosen. People say I have a leadership personality, and Girls Who Code is a program that trains girls to train others.”

Launched in 2012 by founder Rashma Saujani, the first South Asian woman to run for Congress in 2010, Girls Who Code advocates for a new model of female leadership. That new model focuses on risk-taking, competition and mentorship, and mirrors the intent of Saujani’s book, “Women Who Don’t Wait in Line,” due to be released by Amazon this year.

The goal of Girls Who Code is to expose 1 million young women to computer science education by the year 2020. The program, which began in New York City with one program last year, expanded nationwide and added seven programs this year.

“It is more than just computer skills,” said Dressler, adding that she filled out an application to participate and was selected by the school. “It also provides great opportunities in entrepreneurship and builds confidence, which is hard to teach. We start off shy, and by the end of the first session we don’t have any problems talking with others.”

Perhaps more of a natural athlete than a computer nerd, Dressler, who wrestled her first year at Golden Sierra this past year, said that the technical program has opened up avenues to her for higher education.

“Until this summer, I didn’t think college was possible for me,” she said. “I was thinking of the military, but now I want to do the Reserves and go to some sort of college. It’s an amazing program.”

Saujani and Girls Who Code brought together a network of technology, education, entrepreneurship and engineering experts, who “advise the organization and support its work to empower young women to pursue opportunities in technology and engineering,” as stated on its Website. Although vague on the specifics, Girls Who Code has close ties with Intel, Facebook, AT&T, Google, Gilt Groupe and Twitter, just to name a few.

“Before the summer, I didn’t know anything about computer coding,” said Dressler, “but I love it. They give us a skill set and we have to figure it out; you work out what you do know. It’s up to you to decide how to do it. You put something in and see the result then and there.”

Result driven, Dressler enjoys amateur horse training when she isn’t wrestling, studying or coding.

“I’ve never owned a horse in my life but I have been riding for 13 years,” she said. “In August I will be training a horse that is going to the racetrack,” a kind of trail for Dressler, who was recently baptized into the Church of Latter-day Saints of Jesus Christ in Georgetown. “We’ll see how I do.”

Adding that she is very excited about wrestling this year.

“My first season was last year but I was out (from an injury) for over half of the year’s season,” Dressler said.

When asked what she enjoyed about wrestling, she added, “I’m not much of a girlie girl. When I was younger I wrestled with my younger nephew. It’s a chance to beat up someone and not get yelled at — actually get praised for it — that sounds good to me.”

Dressler said that Girls Who Code has given her more confidence in every aspect of her life. Attending the program on the campus of UC Davis, she and other girls involved in Girls Who Code, work Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., just like a regular work week.

The program that Dressler attends will end the middle of August; in the meantime, she stays at the campus and enjoys a return home each weekend.

Rebecca Murphy

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