According to the Girl Scout Research Institute, more than half of all girls say they don’t typically consider a career in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). At Cisco, we can change that – with the help of nonprofit partners like Techbridge, we can inspire girls to discover a passion for technology, science, and engineering.
As part of National Engineers Week and our efforts to empower the next generation of innovators and leaders, Cisco welcomed 30 fifth-grade girls from the Komatsu and Esperanza schools in Oakland, California to its San Jose campus earlier today, where they took part in a wide range of hands-on activities designed by Techbridge. Since launching in 2000, Techbridge has expanded academic options and STEM career opportunities for underrepresented minorities and more than 4000 girls in grades 5-12.
Shari Slate, Vice President and Chief Inclusion & Collaboration Officer at Cisco, attended the event and talked with several of the girls. “Cisco’s success has always been driven by our culture and our employees,” she said. “Through programs such as Techbridge, and with a focus on STEM, we have an opportunity to make a tremendous difference to people, our culture, company and customers.”
Volunteers from Cisco and representatives from Techbridge joined the girls for a role model session in the morning, sharing advice about careers in IT with the fascinated students. After, the girls participated in two hands-on activities – a “PB&J Robot” exercise and a Disney-themed Code.org activity.
Making STEM fun through hands-on practice
Most people know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – grab two slices of bread, spread peanut butter on one side, jelly on the other, then press the halves together. It sounds easy, but not when you’re trying to teach a robot how to make the perfect sandwich.
The girls worked together in teams of 4 to create a computer “program” for the “robot,” which read and followed the instructions exactly as written. If the girls wrote “spread jelly on bread,” the volunteer playing the part of the “robot” used their fingers to spread the jelly on the bread.
“I learned that you have to be very specific when talking to a computer,” one of the girls said.
The directions needed to be clear and concise, and the girls needed to work together to reach their common goal. The activity not only helped the girls develop communication skills and teamwork, but taught them the basics of programming.
After the robot activity, students got the chance to put their newfound programming expertise to the test on Code.org. The nonprofit website launched in 2013 to increase participation by women and underrepresented minorities in computer science and STEM courses.
The girls completed one of the website’s many interactive coding activities, which are designed to make computer programming easy for any student. Their hands-on activity involved Disney’s Anna and Elsa, characters from the popular movie “Frozen.” Each student used a computer to write coded instructions for the virtual Anna or Elsa, who would take those directions and draw snowflakes on the left side of the screen.
The website’s series of lessons make computer-programming fun – rather than using text-heavy code, students manipulated puzzle pieces to write clear, simple instructions that came to life in the form of their favorite movie characters.
At the end of the day, the girls toured Cisco’s Executive Briefing Center and learned more about Cisco TelePresence collaboration technology. For many of the girls, the visit was their first experience with networking technology and engineering equipment.
The hands-on activities and mentoring from employee volunteers left their mark on the students. “I would like to thank all the Cisco volunteers who helped us today to learn more about coding and how cool it is to be an engineer,” one of the students said before leaving.
Visit Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility website to learn how Cisco is inspiring young women to pursue careers in STEM.