Turning Children Into Agents of Change

Kimberly A. Scott

Kimberly A. Scott is being honored as an African American STEM Champion of Change.

I have always believed that all children can innovate and be change agents if provided the proper resources and learning environment.

This vision means collaborating with those individuals who are underserved – through race, ethnicity, gender, poverty, – so that they can access and master the technological tools to further our communities.  Creating an educational setting that values students’ identities and cultures is key in this digital age.

CompuGirls engages young girls from the ages of thirteen to eighteen in the digital world. By learning how to research and innovate with technology, girls increase their computational thinking and techno-social analytical skills.

I developed this program through my work at Arizona State University as Associate Professor of Women and Gender studies in the School of Social Transformation when it became increasingly clear to me that girls and young women from underrepresented communities are not entering or persisting in one of the most lucrative and stable careers—technology.

Consider that a new analysis of test-taking data recently reported in Education Week found that no female, African American, or Hispanic students took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science in Mississippi and Montana. Overall, of the 30,000 students who took the exam last year, less than 20 percent of those students were female. A 2012 study by the National Center for Women and Information Technology reported that only 3% and 1% of the United States computing workforce are African American and Hispanic women, respectively. Native American women majoring in computer and information sciences represent less than 1%. Yet, many girls belonging to these racial and ethnic groups are very interested in technology. Sadly, too many of the offered courses and activities are culturally irrelevant causing these prospective technologists to ultimately find the discipline boring. The persistent absence of these indivdiuals can lead to costly consequences for our society.

Since it began in 2007, CompuGirls has expanded from the Phoenix metropolitan area to Colorado, educating girls about social problems and nurturing skills they can use now and in the future. Girls in the program identify and research a social or community issue that is important to them, analyze the issue and ultimately come up with and present a solution. In this way, the technology becomes a means to the research. By using a peer mentoring approach, CompuGirls creates connections that support lifelong skill development in an empowering, creative and fun environment.

Being named a STEM Access Champion of Change is not only a distinct honor in my career, but also an acknowledgement of the need to teach girls technological skills in an engaging and transformative way, that will, in turn, add intellectual diversity and talent to our country’s workforce.

Kimberly A. Scott is the founder of CompuGirls, Associate Professor of Women and Gender studies in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University and Affiliate Faculty in  George Mason University’s Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity. In addition to publishing in refereed journals, writing op-ed pieces, technical reports, book chapters and pieces for the Huffington Post, Scott is co-author of Kids in Context (2005, Rowman and Littlefield), and co-editor of Research in Urban Educational Settings: Lessons Learned and Implications for Future Practice (2011, IAP).

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