Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 7
U.S. State Department
Tackles Gender Gap
In STEM Participation
Initiatives target Middle East, North Africa
By Taylor Lewis
Seeking to Inspire
The TechGirls program emerged
from the success of TechWomen, an
initiative created in 2011 by thenSecretary of State Hillary Clinton
for career development in STEM
ﬁelds, focused on 20- to 30-year-old
women around the world.
"By increasing opportunities for
women and girls in the STEM ﬁelds,
we are getting closer to realizing
greater equality for women across the
world and widening the pipeline for
the next generation of female leaders," Sarah Shields, the State Department's program ofﬁcer for TechGirls,
said in an email.
The State Department also sponsors the WiSci Girls STEAM Camp,
which brings together high school
ABOVE: Zeineb Ouerghi,
of Tunisia, left, hugs Joy Stevenson,
the CEO of Catch Them Young,
during a service activity arranged
through the TechGirls program.
Alexandria D'Antonio, from
Michigan, works on coding, a skill
honed in the TechGirls program.
Erin Irwin for Education Week
They have traveled from Tunisia
and Algeria, from Lebanon and
One teenage girl wants to be an
engineer, another to work in astrophysics. They are "TechGirls," participants in a summer program that
brought them to the nation's capital
this summer to nurture their passion for leadership and sharpen their
The U.S. Department of Statesponsored program is one of a
growing number of efforts that are
providing real-world, in-depth experiences to get girls more engaged
in science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM. Men still
largely outnumber women in STEM
fields, and the State Department
aims to pick away at that gap.
TechGirls is run by Legacy International, a nonprofit group with a
long history of supporting local community-building around the world.
The itinerary for the program brings
girls from the Middle East and North
Africa on visits to tech companies,
and has them take part in a coding camp and in community-service
activities, all designed to cultivate
their interest in math- and sciencerelated studies and professions.
The intersection of technology
experience, cultural exchange, and
leadership training is what attracts
many applicants, including 17-yearold Vera Murad. TechGirls alums,
some of whom have gained international recognition, brought back
stories that intrigued the young Palestinian, who had helped build a job
and scholarship search app with her
high school tech team.
"You get to learn more about other
people's cultures, traditions, and you
get to make long-lasting friendships,"
said Vera. "You get to learn leadership skills, and how to be a successful
leader and change-maker."
students from around the world for
a STEM and art-focused summer
camp. Started as part of the "Let
Girls Learn" initiative, the camp
ﬁrst took place last year in Rwanda,
bringing African and American girls
together in the southern city of
Gashora. This year, Americans joined
girls from Latin America in a different location, Peru.
"Let Girls Learn" was launched
in 2015 by the White House to promote girls' education on a global
scale. Earlier this summer, Oracle
announced a $3 million investment
in the initiative. That commitment
includes technology-based teacher
training and curriculum development for STEM high schools in
Egypt. The nine schools that Oracle
is supporting include a girls' boarding school, funded through the
United States Agency for International Development.
The U.S.-based tech company AOL
also launched the Let Girls Build
challenge as a part of the same
initiative Oracle is supporting, inviting American high school girls
to ﬁnd tech-enabled solutions that
will help girls around the world who
don't have access to education.
The goal is to make sure girls are
"provided with resources, and educators and mentors who are not only
going to inspire them to get interested in computer science, but to stay
in computer science," Alison Derbenwick, the vice president of Oracle
Academy, said in an interview.
The 2016 TechGirls class included
girls from Egypt, Jordan, and
Part of the TechGirls program in-
cludes a weeklong coding camp at
American University, hosted by iD
Tech Camps, which provides students
with hands-on technology summer
experiences around the country.
Thanks to a grant allowing iD Tech
Camps to expand their focus on girls'
education, the TechGirls program
was able to start bringing in American girls last year to join their peers
from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and
other countries for the week.
Culture and Coding
While attending the iD Tech camp,
the TechGirls primarily focused on
Java and C++ coding. In one of their
classes, an instructor led four girls
through graphic design.
They worked on desktop computers labeled with account names:
Albus Dumbledore, Nemo, Dobby,
occasionally turning to journals full
of coding notes laid out alongside
them. They spoke mostly with their
instructors in English, and when
chatting with each other, sometimes
shifted into Arabic.
One of the TechGirls from the
United States, Alexandria D'Antonio
of Madison Heights, Mich., heard
about the opportunity from a travel
agent who organizes trips for her
school's service club.
Though she and the four other
American girls were only with the
program for a week, D'Antonio
bonded quickly with the other TechGirls. She talked about violence
against women with Hadil Daif, a
participant from Algeria.
Another participant, Jana Sebaali,
spoke about the isolation that comes
with being interested in engineering.
When technology education opportunities are offered at her school in Lebanon, the 16-year-old often feels alone
in her eagerness to pursue them.
"I'll be the only girl raising my
hand," she said. "It gets a little bit
uncomfortable, or intimidating."
Hadil, a 16-year-old who wants to
work in technical mathematics, observed that in her school, girls often
outperform boys. Whether it is in
North Africa or in the United States,
she believes that one of the greatest
barriers to women pursuing education and careers in STEM fields is
"Most of the girls ... have this idea
stuck in their minds that they can't
be geeks, they can't be brilliant computer geniuses," Hadil said. "Well,
the reality is the total opposite," said
the young Algerian.
According to the World Economic
Forum, women in Middle Eastern
and North African countries graduate with STEM degrees at a higher
percentage than in the United
States. In 2015, 30 percent of American STEM graduates were women.
The average between Algeria, Egypt,
Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia was
43.8 percent the same year, with
Tunisian women leading-earning
55 percent of STEM degrees awarded
in the North African nation.
Nour Atrissi, co-founder and president of the Lebanese coding academy
Teens Who Code, believes that a
signiﬁcant obstacle to proper STEM
education in her country is curriculum. Many schools in Lebanon do not
offer adequate exposure to STEM
subjects, she said in an email. A re-
port released this summer by the Information and Technology Innovation
Foundation cited similar shortcomings in schools in the United States.
Programs like TechGirls help
bridge that gap, but Atrissi said that
to be successful, they must complement what is already provided in
schools and allow students to explore
the subjects that they are interested
in. Pressuring students to take a particular academic focus, she said, is
Once the TechGirls participants
return to their home countries, the
work does not end. The program
requires them to complete a project
related to technology following along
the lines of the service and leadership
mission that TechGirls emphasizes.
Many in the 2016 class already had
ideas about those projects before the
program even ended. Meriam Gaied,
16, wants to hold motivational conferences in her native Tunisia, and in
Lebanon. Jana Sebaali plans to help
bridge the divide between refugees
and the local population with a club
for children. Hadil Daif aspires to
create an image-processing club for
elementary-age children in Algeria,
as well as hold conferences meant to
inspire people to get into technology,
both within the country and internationally.
TechGirls alums have gone on to
create apps and websites for family businesses. Nourhan Fooda, an
alumna from Egypt, was cited by
Michelle Obama in a speech for her
desire to be "the youngest Nobel Prize
winner for nuclear physics." She
currently attends the Cairo Maadi
STEM School for Girls, the same
girls' boarding school that Oracle is
supporting as a part of the "Let Girls
Mary Helmig, Legacy International's vice president of youth initiatives, pointed to the power of the
program to shatter preconceived
notions. "It's really important to expose teenagers to each other, and ﬁnd
all of these stories of great people that
are doing community work," she said.
As Hadil put it, in summing up
her experience with the program,
EDUCATION WEEK | August 31, 2016 | www.edweek.org | 7
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - August 31, 2016
Education Week - August 31, 2016
Calls to Halt Charters Stir Friction
Head Start Benefits Underscored
Efforts to Boost Teacher Diversity Seen Falling Short
Digital Directions: 1-to-1 Computing Under Microscope in Maine Schools
News in Brief
Back to School: Taking the Public’s Pulse
U.S. State Department Tackles Gender Gap in Stem Participation
Act Scores Dip as Participation Swells
Are Poor Students More Ready for Kindergarten?
Teacher-Tenure Battles Continue After Vergara
Judge Blocks Guidance on Transgender Rights
Reading the Tea Leaves in Advance of Essa Funding Rules
Q&A: With Christopher Emdin
Q&A: Talking K-12 With a Force in the House Gop
Howard Fuller: The Naacp Has It Wrong
Milton Chen & Jonathan B. Jarvis: 100 Years Old, Our National Parks Are the Best Outdoor Classrooms
Topschooljobs Recruitment Marketplace
David E. Dematthews: The Principal as Community Advocate
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Digital Directions: 1-to-1 Computing Under Microscope in Maine Schools
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 2
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 3
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - News in Brief
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Report Roundup
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Back to School: Taking the Public’s Pulse
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - U.S. State Department Tackles Gender Gap in Stem Participation
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Are Poor Students More Ready for Kindergarten?
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Teacher-Tenure Battles Continue After Vergara
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 10
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 11
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 12
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 13
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 14
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 15
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Reading the Tea Leaves in Advance of Essa Funding Rules
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Q&A: Talking K-12 With a Force in the House Gop
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Howard Fuller: The Naacp Has It Wrong
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Milton Chen & Jonathan B. Jarvis: 100 Years Old, Our National Parks Are the Best Outdoor Classrooms
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 20
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Letters
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - Topschooljobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - 23
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - David E. Dematthews: The Principal as Community Advocate
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - CT1
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - CT2
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - CT3
Education Week - August 31, 2016 - CT4