SWE, Tech Club bring girls-only coding event to GCU

Grand Canyon University students from different colleges compete in a coding challenge at the Coding With My Girls event Saturday in the Technology Building.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Do not lose your grit.

Stand up straight. Be confident.

Fail fast. Fail forward. Fail hard.

Fake it until you make it.

Be where you belong.

Panelists Cori Araza, Prisha Shroff, Toni Grider and Deborah Haralson (from left) speak about their careers in technology and some of the challenges they've faced.

That was just some of the advice panelists shared at the first Coding With My Girls event on Saturday in Grand Canyon University’s Technology Building, a code-a-thon that included a talk with a panelist of women technology leaders, as well as a coding challenge.

One of the panelists, Toni Grider, IT Manager at Best Western Global Operations Center, told the GCU students at the event how she got into technology: by watching her electrician dad tinker with things.

When she was a little girl, she thought, ‘Dad’s a wizard!’ He could fix everything. She discovered she shared that sense of curiosity, taking it with her to the military before she started on her technology career.

When moderator Jess Padilla, Project Manager of GCU’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, asked the panelists if they ever had experienced gender inequality, Grider said, yes. Absolutely.

“I had a problem with one thing above everything else,” Grider said. “It’s, ‘You can’t do that because you’re a girl.’ ‘Girls can’t do that.’ … Well, why don’t they? I operated on spite for a long time.

“I wanted to show men of my father’s generation, just because they’re biologically different doesn’t make them better than me.

“We have a right to be where we belong,” said Grider, who wore a shirt that read “Strong Female Lead,” and expressed how she fought – and fought hard – for her career in technology.

GCU Associate Professor Deborah Haralson (right) and Toni Grider (left), IT Manager at Best Western Global Operations Center, tell students about certifications they might need and how to make impressions in interviews.

Associate Professor Deborah Haralson, Program Chair for the Information Technology and IT-Cyber programs, spoke about her time working for a tech company. She was a secretary, yet she was building full-blown applications.

“I realized that my place in the business world was very much to get coffee and take notes,” said Haralson, the daughter of an electrical engineer who wrote her first video game program when she was 12 years old and started earning certifications and teaching college before she herself graduated from college.

She knew her work sometimes took a backseat to her gender.

At an engineering company she worked for, she would send tech-related emails to male colleagues, signing, “Deborah.” She often wouldn’t get an answer back.

“How do I solve this problem?” she asked herself.

That’s when she started signing everything D.E. Haralson.

“You know what? Miraculously I started getting answers.”

How she learned about IT, before IT programs even existed in college, was to just hang around others who knew about it. “I would listen and learn,” she said

Panelist Cori Araza, the Director of K12 STEM Outreach and Program Development for GCU’s K12 Educational Development Department, got emotional when she shared her experience in the technology industry. She dealt with gender inequality extensively and told students at the workshop that it happens “more than you know.”

“This is really painful,” she said. “… I am no longer in technology for this reason. It grew to be too much.”

But Araza, who started a business in college building computers for people, found her passion in technology education. In academia, she said she feels more respected.

And it is in academia where she has found a drive to help young women, like those at the Coding With My Girls Event, find their way to technology, build successful careers and, as Grider said, be where they belong.

“Yes, SWE. Yes, Technology Club. We need you,” said Araza to the student organizations, which put together the event with the help of K12 Educational Development.

Niya Patterson, Girls Who Code Committee Lead for the GCU Technology Club, was looking for a way to get more women involved in the club so reached out to SWE.

Students present the website they designed after completing the coding challenge.

“SWE’s doing an amazing job with recruiting women and being advocates for women in this industry,” said Jess Padilla of her group, which had organized a Women in STEM panel last semester.

Over the summer, SWE and the Technology Club started brainstorming ways to support women who are interested in STEM and came up with the idea for a girls-only hackathon/code-a-thon to encourage more female students to explore a technology career pathway. That’s how Coding With My Girls came together.

Patterson also reached out to the Best Western International Women in Technology group, which donated funds to support women in technology at the University.

The coding challenge at the event involved designing web pages in addition to the visit with women tech panelists, who discussed the kinds of certifications students might consider earning: Oracle, AWS, MicroSoft and Cisco.

They spoke about looking for opportunities and not just passively waiting for them to come along: “Opportunities, they’ll be there for you, but you also have to reach out and take them by the hand, do Google searches. … You have to put yourself out there and show what you’re good at,” said the youngest of the panelists, 14-year-old Prisha Shroff.

The freshman at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona, developed an artificial intelligence-based wildfire prevention system to identify fire-vulnerable areas that then can deploy drones to fly to those spots (the project garnered her a first-place win in the Broadcom Foundation Coding with Commitment Award in Engineering).

Panelists also emphasized, “You have to be willing to fight,” if you want to have a place in technology, said Grider. “Don’t lose your guts. Fight for your place in the space.”

Saturday’s event was for GCU students, and they came from all different colleges.

“There is one girl here who’s business. … There’s a mechanical engineering student who’s here. Some are cybersecurity,” said Padilla.

Makayla Walizer, who is majoring in biology on the pre-med track, is a member of the campus’ robotics team and decided it would be fun to join in the workshop.

“I’m interested in the mechanics part,” she said of her role on the team.

Coding With My Girls was organized by the Society of Women Engineers chapter at GCU and the University's Technology Club with help from K12 Educational Development.

Mechanical engineering freshman Lillian Wong, a member of the SWE club, said she’s taking a coding class and thought Coding With My Girls would help strengthen her coding skills.

Senior business major Estephanie Torres did an internship with an investment company that used UX/UI (User Experience/User Interface) design and process flow.

“That really interested me … tech stood out to me,” said Torres.

And that’s what the SWE and Technology clubs are hoping for – to help women tap into those technology interests, no matter their major.

“We want women in technology,” Padilla said. “We want SWE and Technology to be this comfortable space for girls.

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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GCU Today: Engineering shops, clubs show what they can do

GCU Today: GCU’s female STEM leaders paving the way

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