An event sponsored by Southside Virginia Community College and held at both Kenston Forest and Park View High was designed to inspire girls to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. The students were able to hear from both women working in the information technology industry and current college students pursuing degrees in STEM. 

Catherine Graham spoke about her work with Humanity Road, a non-profit that uses social media to find people who are in need of help during disasters. She encouraged the students not to let anyone, even themselves, be the naysayer that keeps them from being who they want to be. Graham said that she has struggled as a minority in emergency management. 

“In 2014, only eight percent of the leaders in emergency management were women,” Graham said. 

The other speakers included Marcy Melendez, a regional manager with Microsoft, and Ashley Barrett, a web designer with Red Hat. The student speakers were Christian Jackson of SVCC, Rachel Neller of Virginia Commonwealth University, and Jordan Berkompas of Longwood University. 

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Park View High School girls work together to take apart laptops and put them back together. (Meredith Baker).

Many of the speakers emphasized the challenges they have overcome to succeed or the hard work required to learn their skills, but the high school students also heard about how things are changing. Berkompas said she has not experienced the same challenge that some other women have as they have pursued careers in technology, as even though she is a minority in her classes, her professors have not treated her differently. 

“They encourage me as a student, but they don’t hurt me or help me just because I’m female, so that’s been really great,” Berkompas said. 

Students attending the event were able to take apart a laptop and then compete as teams to see who could put their laptop back together the fastest. They also got to see what the servers that make up the cloud actually look like inside. 

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Marcy Melendez of Microsoft looks over one team taking apart a laptop. (Meredith Baker)

SVCC Apprenticeship Coordinator Kelly Arnold encouraged the girls to at least try a class in technology and empower their friends to do the same, taking advantage of opportunities such as the free dual enrollment through SVCC.

“You may take it one semester and say, ‘you know, this really isn’t for me,’ and that’s okay, you learned,” Arnold said. 

Arnold also told the students that, due to a partnership with Microsoft, SVCC offers scholarships to female students in non-traditional fields, such as IT. 

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Ella Patton, left, and Sophie Crowder, who helped to organize the event. (Dallas Weston)

The Girls in IT event stemmed from a “Career Options for Women Interested in Technology” event hosted by SVCC last fall. Sophie Crowder, an eighth-grader at Kenston Forest, and Ella Patton, a sophomore at Park View, each attended the event and wanted to bring something similar to their schools. Sophie encouraged the girls to come try out the Girls Who Code program at the R. T. Arnold Library and said she hopes to see them all working in an IT field one day. 

“That’s what we wanted to do today, inspire you to like STEM, love STEM,” Sophie said.