By Kerry Close
A few weeks ago, Valerie Fernandez didn’t know anything about computer programming. Now, the 17-year-old Pembroke Pines resident is coding an Internet game all by herself.
Fernandez is one of 20 Broward County girls participating in a program called Girls Who Code, an effort to combat the lack of women in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
Women hold less than 25 percent of jobs in those disciplines, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“It has to be [because of] society’s gender stereotypes,” said Ria Galanos, the program’s instructor. “More often than not, girls wind up choosing the career paths that have been marketed and advertised to them.”
The seven-week Girls Who Code program teaches high-school girls computer science skills, including mobile development, robotics and web design.
This year is the first time the program — offered in four other cities nationwide — has come to South Florida, open to girls from Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The Broward girls, who had go to through an application process to participate, are taking classes at Miami-Dade College in Miami.
Fernandez is working on a computer game similar to “2048,” an Internet puzzle where players slide numbered tiles on a grid to combine them, multiplying to create a tile with the number 2048.
It’s a project that not only teaches her programming, but also reinforces her math skills. She hopes to apply the skills she’s learned to improve her high school’s website.
The program in Miami is the result of a partnership between Girls Who Code and Verizon Foundation, the philanthropic branch of Verizon. Each week, Verizon brings in a female executive to speak to the girls.
Beth Bailey, associate director of government and education at Verizon, emphasized to the girls that STEM knowledge can be an important skill in any career path.
“I hope the girls learn that if they continue to study hard and build on their STEM knowledge, they can pursue their passion, no mattter what is,” Bailey said.
Fernandez said her summer with Girls Who Code has encouraged her to pursue a career in engineering.
“I’ve learned not to be afraid to believe in your ideas,” she said. “Even if you fail in the beginning, you have to keep trying.”