CodeCrush program breaches barriers

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Cassie Wade
CONTRIBUTOR

In order to break down gender stereotypes associated with the field of information science and technology (IS&T), the University of Nebraska at Omaha is hosting Code Crush, a program designed to introduce young girls to information technology.

According to communications specialist and CodeCrush organizer Amanda Rucker, the CodeCrush program was created in 2013 as part of the Women in IT Initiative.

This initiative, which is led by a community task force of UNO faculty and local IT leaders, works to recruit women into UNO’s College of Information Science and Technology programs.

According to the Women in IT Initiative’s website, the field of IT is growing so quickly a workforce shortage has been created. The community task force believes this problem can be solved by inspiring more women to join the IS&T field.

Photo Courtesy of unomaha.edu
Photo Courtesy of unomaha.edu

“Our goal is to create a diverse talent pool of IT professionals,” Rucker said. “Diverse teams are proven to drive more innovative work, and we want to make sure that all voices are heard.”

Rucker said the CodeCrush program is modeled after other initiatives that have successfully broken down barriers faced by women in IT.

“We recognized we needed to create a program that reached girls at an age before they started forming misconceptions about IT,” Rucker said. “Not only that, but we needed to connect with their influencers: their teachers.”

In order to form a connection with the students as well as their teachers, CodeCrush requires students to bring a teacher to attend workshops on how to inject IT concepts into their current lesson plans.

Rucker said connecting with teachers also helps to create a positive, girl-powered community. With CodeCrush, student volunteers like senior Emily Pachunka have access to even more positive female role models.

Pachunka became involved in the Code Crush program in 2013 and said she feels it is her “responsibility as a current woman in IT to show young girls there are oppor-tunities for them here [in the field of IS&T].”

“I think that girls are sometimes less encouraged to attempt to pursue such a career path,” Pachunka said. “We need to let them know that it is more than OK to be excited about science, engineering and technology.”

Pachunka has taken on a wide variety of responsibilities throughout her time in the CodeCrush program, including talking about her UNO experiences during student led panels, attending events as a chaperone and teaching a workshop on how to create a mobile app in less than an hour.

Pachunka said this year students will have the opportunity to attend workshops in mobile application development, bioinformatics, IT innovation, robotics and cyber security.

Keynote speakers, students, alumni and women in IT panels and several social events, including a trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo and a UNO men’s basketball game are also planned.

CodeCrush has more than 205 students applying for the 40 spots available for the Feb 24-27 program. According to UNO’s website, that’s nearly triple the number of applicants CodeCrush received in 2014 and even more surprisingly, 35 percent of applicants are from rural communities of less than 2,500 people.

Fortunately, funding for the CodeCrush program has also grown with its application number. The Peter Kiewit Foundation has awarded the program a challenge grant of $200,000.

The funds will be used over the next three years to expand the program to twice a year and include a summer conference for alumni, teachers, mentors and stakeholders.

Since the grant involves a matching challenge, the University of Nebraska Foundation will work with IS&T to raise $200,000 in new con-tributions in the next three years.

For more information about the CodeCrush program visit the Women in IT Initiative’s website at ist.unomaha.edu.

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