Free After-School Computer Program Announces State-Wide Initiative | Local News


Sophia Richter and Ailey Robinson, two sophomores from Hellgate High School, spent 12 weeks and countless hours after school earlier this year developing an app called Mood Toast. It is designed to recognize the symptoms of depression, according to well accepted mental health standards.

They were two of 28 young women who participated in the Montana Code Girls Pilot Class, which is a free after-school tech program open to all Montana girls ages 9 to 19. The mission is to inspire and empower more girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM.

On Thursday, Richter and Robinson met with Montanan Governor Steve Bullock and Code Girls co-founder Devin Holmes as part of Bullock’s statewide tour of education and innovation programs.

“We’re here to talk about the experiences of young women coding and why it’s so important that young women have the ability to code,” Richter said.

The girls designed their app for the Montana Technovation Challenge, which challenges students to use their computer programming skills to solve real-world social problems.

“Our app contains a self-assessment test tool,” Robinson explained. “The test was carried out using the (Patient Health Questionnaire 9), which psychologists use today to assess patients to see whether or not they are suffering from depression. We also worked with our school psychologist to make sure every question was valid and that every suggestion we made to the app user was substantiated.

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Robinson also said that anyone who suspects they have depression or is diagnosed can use the app as a self-test tool, making it easier for someone who is hesitant to see a specialist.

“The Technovation gave us a better idea of ​​how to code and the business side of building an app,” she said.

Thanks to the Montana Code Girls class, the two young women are now focusing more on their professional ambitions. Richter said she wanted to pursue a career as an anesthesiologist or some other health-related career, and Robinson might want to become an astronomy professor.

“We strongly believe that all women should get involved in technology and coding,” Richter said. “Technology is a growing industry that is predominantly dominated by the male population. And by getting young women to take an interest in technology and not shy away from it, we can secure positions in this growing industry. Women must be represented in science.

The Montana Code Girls class is a partnership with Big Sky Code Academy, a non-profit organization that offers a 12-week computer programming course in Missoula.

Holmes founded Montana Code Girls with Doug Walter earlier this year. He announced Thursday that the program would seek to recruit up to 150 young women across the state next year, and that they can live anywhere in the state as long as they have access to a computer and to the Internet.

“They learn more than just coding skills,” said Holmes. “They learn the entrepreneurial plan. They learn to film, to do market analysis and even to develop a newspaper. It is therefore much more encompassing than the simple coding part.

Holmes said he was inspired by a film about the National Technovation Challenge to start one here in Montana. The nonprofit organization has community partners such as the Missoula Public Library to help them deliver the program for free.

“I’m happy to announce that starting this fall, Montana Code Girls will be a statewide program,” he said. “We followed the Technovation Challenge program and added other components. “

Holmes said a recent College Board report showed that girls who take advanced-level computer science classes are 10 times more likely to study computer science in college.

“And we know we have a gender diversity challenge in the tech industry,” Holmes said. “The more we can do to encourage interest in technology, the more we can do to encourage girls to study (technology) when they pursue higher education, ultimately resulting in a better workforce.” And that’s basically the purpose of Montana Code Girls.

Bullock spent time browsing the Mood Toast app with Richter and Robinson and reiterated his support for the program.

“STEM initiatives such as Montana Code Girls are essential to ensuring that we equip all Montana students with the skills they need to succeed in a 21st century workforce and growing economy. “

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Gordon K. Morehouse