Friday, July 27, 2012

Girls Got Game: Techbridge Hosts the League of Extraordinary Gamers

This month's guest blog is from Techbridge, an organization based in Oakland, CA dedicated to promoting girls' interest and skills in STEM.  Techbridge also develops resources for teachers, role models, families and partners.  The organization has served over 5,000 girls in grades 5-12 since the organization was founded in 2000.  This piece was written by Linda Kekelis, Executive Director of Techbridge and Eliza Smith, Administrative and Operations Assistant.

This summer, Techbridge introduced 45 girls to video game design with a five-day Summer Academy in Oakland and Concord. The academy, which was supported by Chevron, lived up to its name—the League of Extraordinary Gamers.

By mastering Gamestar Mechanic, a game-making tool that uses an intuitive drag and drop interface, girls were introduced to game design.  They learned about creating rules and working through the engineering design process.  As game designers, they improved their games by inviting others, both online and in the classroom, to test their programs and provide feedback.

Why target girls? With only 18 percent of computer and information sciences undergraduate degrees awarded to women and less than one percent of female college freshmen intending to major in computer science, we need to do more to change the equation.  Reaching out to girls early and often can make a difference.  For our Summer Academy, we recruited a range of girls, including those who love to play games online to those who don’t engage much with video games.  By the end of the week every girl had designed a video game and many were interested in careers in technology.

The girls-only element helped Academy attendees feel comfortable exploring computer science. When one of our Techbridge girls attended a computer science camp and was the only girl, she left the camp feeling less confident about her technical skills. By building on our years of experience and extensive research, we designed our program to make sure that every girl’s experience was positive. By the end of the week one girl reflected, “I finally felt I could beat games!” Before, she had always needed her brother’s help.

Role models helped the girls make the connection between their gaming experiences and career opportunities in technology.  At Zynga, the girls met a programmer, a marketing specialist, and a team lead. This trio spoke about their career paths, and worked with the girls to develop a game idea and a marketing plan. At Ubisoft, the girls designed a marketing plan and video game cover for their own video game. At Electronic Arts, the girls were invited to give feedback on games in development.  These field trip experiences impacted the girls’ visions for their future. At the end of the Summer Academy, the girls were asked which careers they were interested in, and their answers included game designer, computer scientist, and engineer.

“Want to check out my game?” the girls excitedly asked their families at the culminating celebration of our Summer Academy. The girls prepared one-minute introductions for their games, and invited their family members to test them.

One parent commented, “Computers have been a “dad thing.” Now they’re a “daughter thing” as well.” Mind shifts like this happen when parents see just how much their daughters are interested in technology and how capable they are of succeeding at it when encouraged.

“I learned that you can do anything…as long as you put your mind to it,” said a Summer Academy attendee.  A week of game design not only helped boost the girls’ confidence, but also encouraged several of them to want to learn to program. If given the opportunity, more girls will become computer scientists and design video games, and in turn, inspire the next wave of girls to pursue computer science.

Want to know what you can do to encourage girls in computer science? 
There are lots of free online resources, like Scratch and Alice, for girls to learn new technologies.
Enroll girls in after-school and summer programs that allow them to play with technology, design games, and be creative.  Be sure to sign them up with friends or in programs with a critical mass of girls.
Introduce girls to role models who are passionate about their work and can share the personal and professional rewards of a career in computer science.
Encourage girls to take AP classes in computer science in high school. These advanced classes help set youth on the path to technology careers.
Check out The National Center for Women and Information Technology’s resources at

Techbridge offers hands-on technology, engineering, and science programs as well as career exploration activities to spark the imaginations of girls in Oakland and other Bay Area communities.  We also offer resources and training for role models, families, and those interested in bringing technology, science and engineering to youth in their communities. To learn more, visit

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Im a female game developer and I would love to speak to your girls. Please contact me.