The 10th Year and Global Expansion!
For the TechGirls program, the summer of 2022 was like no other. From July 7 to July 31, the TechGirls program, a U.S. State Department initiative that is administered by Legacy International, hosted its first in-person summer session since 2019. Since 2012, the TechGirls program has hosted girls ages 15 to 17 from the Middle East and North Africa as well as Central Asia and the United States. The program had been so impactful that, ahead of its tenth year, funding expanded to allow the program to reach a total of 36 countries in South and Central American countries in the Western Hemisphere, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Eurasia, and East Asia and the Pacific. As a result, 136 girls from California to Fiji traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in this interactive program.
Participants were selected after a rigorous application process. Many traveled thousands of miles to share their passion for STEM and foster cross-cultural friendships. Prior to the program, the TechGirls team implemented discussions around culture shock and cultural humility in anticipation of the diverse group represented. The preparation allowed these young STEM leaders to see that they really did have things in common and could respect each others’ differences. Some examples include providing opportunities for others to pray or discussing how different things were in the U.S. compared to their home countries. Throughout the program, the participants spent their free time taking evening walks, eating meals together, watching movies, and enjoy each others’ company.
The program’s main component is the college-level Virginia Tech coursework that the girls complete. The TechGirls were placed into four groups or “pods” at the beginning of the program, named after their classes. These four classes were: a science informatics course called Experience in Molecular Modeling and Informatics – aka EMMI; an electrical engineering course called Automating Systems Using Microprocessors – aka ASUM; a computer science course called Problem Solving in Computing Using Python – aka Python; and a civil and environmental engineering course called Exploring Rivers and Landscapes: The Impact of Climate Change and Human Activity – aka Rivers.
While all TechGirls share a passion for STEM, they all have different levels of experience and vary in their interests within the field. Taking college-level engineering courses challenged TechGirls to expand their comfort zones and have confidence in their skills. This meant that the TechGirls also explored STEM subjects that may not have been of interest before. For example, one TechGirl with interest in coding and hoping to take Python found herself in the ASUM course working on robots instead. She later discovered that her initial disappointment had transformed into enthusiasm and confidence she had built in a different area of STEM. Each TechGirl has her own story about building self-confidence over time. The courses provide participants with new skills and knowledge to impact their Community Action Projects. Each participant completes these projects after returning home. The TechGirls program empowers participants to bring positive change to her community. While at Virginia Tech, TechGirls gained skills in project development and pitched their ideas to their peers.
While in Washington, D.C., the TechGirls’ attended a special panel organized by the Women’s High Tech Coalition – “WHTC”. During the event, women of influence across various fields spoke to the participants about the importance of a more diverse and inclusive STEM industry. The TechGirls shared their own experiences and networked with the WHTC members that have been in their shoes. TechGirls learned that even when they are the only women in the room, they are not alone. They have a community of peers, mentors, and supporters cheering them on.
In addition, TechGirls enjoyed interacting with STEM leaders at the National Museum of Natural History’s exhibit, Q?rius (pronounced “Curious”), and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. First, the girls visited the Q?rius/“Curious” exhibit, where they could inspect pieces from the private collections, play STEM-related interactive games, and meet with professionals. Next, the girls visited NASA to gain insight into various careers in STEM. They met astronaut Daniel Tani and heard from a diverse panel of women in aeronautics/space.
The TechGirls in-person exchange culminated with a Capstone event at the U.S. Department of State. Speakers included Mark Pannell, the Operations Director in the Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, and Asha Beh, Alumni Outreach Specialist in ECA’s Office of Alumni Affairs. The TechGirls were delighted to hear from Assistant Secretary of ECA Lee Satterfield on the importance of pursuing educational opportunities and leaning into your network. A TechGirl from each world region reflected on her insights from the program.
Overall, the 2022 TechGirls program was historical as the first in-person program since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the largest TechGirls program with 136 girls from 36 countries, and the tenth-year anniversary of the TechGirls program as a whole. The following quotes represent the takeaways of various TechGirls from the 2022 cohort:
- “Everything has been amazing! I loved making all these new friends that I’ll never forget!” – 2022 TechGirl from Greece
- “My favorite moments were the ones spent with my friends. It is crazy how someone can become family to you this fast, and this is what TechGirls is all about. I was able to make new friendships and connections with many people in addition to experiencing college life before becoming a college student. My favorite TG moments have been when I got to introduce people to my country and its culture.” – 2022 TechGirl from Palestinian Territories
- “In general, all the memories I’ve formed with people in my pod have been so meaningful. Whether it’s doing karaoke or watching a movie with my friends, I feel understood and genuinely happy with people in this program.” – 2022 TechGirl from the USA
After the program, TechGirls returned to their home communities to share their TechGirls experience and implement their Community Action Projects. As a result of a perspective-shifting summer experience, each TechGirl has improved skills and knowledge to make lasting positive social change in her own unique way.