The Smart Girls Code project, launched last year by the IEEE Women in Engineering’s Unicamp, South Section Brazil Chapter, teaches high school girls from low-income areas about technology. How? Through one of their most cherished belongings: their smartphones.
None of the students had ever programmed before. They learned by taking several free classes using the MIT App Inventor tool, which provides step-by-step instructions. They then formed three groups. Each one had two female mentors who work in technology, and who also served as role models for the participants. In addition to the technical training, the girls had opportunities to attend talks on marketing and entrepreneurship in order to understand the business opportunities in technology.
The project was led by the IEEE WIE Unicamp group and Juliana Borin, a professor at the University of Campinas, in cooperation with Hilton Federici State High School. Many volunteers were involved in teaching and mentoring. The project received a grant from the Brazilian government in a coinitiative of the MCTI (Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation), the CNPq (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development), and other institutions. Samsung Brazil provided the smartphones to make this project a reality. In parallel to the donation, Samsung also sponsored the renovation of Hilton Federici, creating a reading room and a library with audiovisual equipment for the school.
After completing one year of extracurricular programming courses and activities, the girls were able to develop their own mobile apps. At the closing ceremony this year, the students presented their final projects to a panel of judges who work in the industry. The winning team developed the Querido Cabelo (in English, Dear Hair) app, which facilitates hair donations in order to make wigs for women who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment. The three members received Samsung Phablets, certificates, and the opportunity to take more advanced programming course at MUPI, an online programming school. The girls are now in the process of looking for a sponsor to help bring the app to market.
Other notable applications included Bravo!, which enables artists to promote their own concerts and Quero Abrigo (I Want Shelter), which connects people who want to give away pets with those who want to adopt them.
The panel of judges included Vera Bier, chief technology officer of R&D at Samsung Brazil; Luciene Costa Nascimento advisor at Technovation Programaê!, Camila Achutti, founder of the Women in Computing blog, and Jefferson Silva, an Android developer at Movile.
The judges were so amazed by the students’ ideas that they helped them enter global programming competitions. Even though they may not have had the financial resources, the girls all had the passion, work ethic, and motivation to succeed.
Vanessa Testoni is the founder of the IEEE WIE South Brazil section. Currently, she is a research scientist at Samsung Research Institute Brazil, in Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil.