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Supergirls Code reaches national success

Coder School co-owner Charu Katyal [left] with Sophie Maniscalco, Ann Wagner, Kailin Zhang, Jeff Mazur and Everett Johnson. [Source: Rep. Ann Wagner’s office]

A program that began as an after-school coding club has gained momentum and its creators have been recognized by the U.S. Congress.

Kailin Zhang, a recent graduate of Marquette High, and Sophie Maniscalco, a rising senior at St. Joseph’s Academy, were named winners of the 2nd District Congressional App Challenge. The girls were recognized by Congresswoman Ann Wagner [R-MO] in an award presentation ceremony on Dec. 3, 2019. Their award-winning idea is Supergirls Code.

Established by members of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2015, the Congressional App Challenge is a national competition highlighting the value of computer science and STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] education.

In a press release acknowledging the award, Wagner said, “… I am extremely proud of Kailin and Sophie’s hard work and dedication.”

In 2018, Supergirls Code was created to provide workshops and after-school clubs to elementary school girls, targeting third- through fifth-graders. Its goal is to foster a love of computer science through coding. The curriculum developed by Maniscalco and Zhang was built on what they learned as Kode with Klassy scholars. Today, their curriculum is offered on a national level, resulting in between 10 and 15 Supergirls Code classes in 10 states around the U.S. They developed the award-winning iOS mobile app for regional leaders of Supergirls Code to allow them to view the curriculum, plan lessons, upload photos, and schedule classes all from their phone.

According to data released by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, just 18% of all computer and information science degrees are earned by women, down from 37% in 1985.

While the number of females across medicine, business and law fields has risen significantly, the percentage of women who receive CIS degrees is the smallest across all STEM fields, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This is despite the fact that 57% of undergraduate degrees are earned by women.

Maniscalco works part-time for The Coder School in Town & Country, which opened in 2018 and is co-owned by Charu Katyal and Kathy Kilo Peterson. The first year, the school followed the national average of 80% male enrollment. Today, Katyal says it down to 77%, which is “trending in the right direction” for a stronger female presence.

“It is extremely important to change the mindset that coding is for boys,” Katyal said in a previous interview with West Newsmagazine. “There is no escaping it. Absolutely the most elementary skills you need in the present or the future is basic programming skills. You must embrace technology if you want a career in the future. No matter what you choose as a career in life, there are applications of coding in every arena.” 

Sophie Maniscalco [Photo credit by Jess and Jenn Photography)
Sophie Maniscalco [Photo credit by Jess and Jenn Photography)

Proving Katyal’s theory, Maniscalco is branching out.

Last fall, a Georgetown professor asked her to write a book on the topic of women and technology. It is due to publish this month. The “Supergirls” book explores the intersection of coding and the gender gap, as well as, the wide variety of coding uses in the world.

“[It also explores the] intersection of coding and girl power and how when you code in an all-girl environment, all the girl power comes with it; all these women rising and lifting one another up,” Maniscalco said.

The book will feature strong women [Supergirl coders] that break down the stigma and stereotype of women in technology.

“It starts with learning about women in history, whose tech stories we don’t hear, as well as, highlighting current women in tech,” Maniscalco said.

Those stories include Karlie Kloss, who founded the nationally recognized Kode With Klossy program in 2015. Maniscalco’s story is heavily influenced by Karlie and the Kode with Klossy program. Now, she wants to influence others.

“I want this book to inspire others to try coding if it is something you think you might enjoy,” Maniscalco said. “After seeing the impact of coding on my life, I wish I had started it even sooner.”

[Editor’s note: Kailin Zhang did not respond to West Newsmagazine’s request for an interview]
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