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Engaging women and girls in technology


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The color pink and the word "chick" might not seem like the first choices for those committed to female empowerment—but the people behind ChickTech don't see it that way. The nonprofit wants the word "chick" to be seen as empowering, not degrading. And they chose pink as a signature color for their organization, in an effort to flip the script on the notion that tech is not "girly."

ChickTech is a national organization founded in 2012, getting its start in Central Oregon about three years ago with its ChickTech: High School workshop. Last year's workshop at Oregon State University-Cascades in Bend included 45 girls from central and eastern Oregon. While based in some of the larger population centers of the state, ChickTech also aims to work in rural communities such as Madras, bringing tech topics to places that might not otherwise see the opportunities available to them. Other chapters are located in Seattle, Wash., and Corvallis and Portland.

The nonprofit is aimed at engaging women and girls in the technology industry. Programs across the nonprofit include high school groups and after-school clubs, meetup groups for adults, a regional conference and a weeklong summer camp for middle school girls in Portland. Here in Central Oregon, a small team of volunteers has started with the workshop, with a goal of adding more long-term volunteers, to enable the group to offer more year-round programming.

Much of the programming is intended to help young women who don't think of themselves as "technical" explore the opportunities in tech. Activities are often hands-on. At the ChickTech: High School workshop, coming up Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, high school-age girls (and those who identify as transgender and non-binary individuals) will take part in activities including building a 3D virtual reality game, creating e-wearables with LED lights, designing and creating user experiences through computer interfaces, taking part in a data analytics workshop and learning to program a small computer—which participants can take home.

While the workshop has been going strong and has gained enough support that it's offered to girls free of charge, volunteers say they're always looking for more interested parties to build up the Central Oregon chapter of ChickTech.

"We're getting quite a mix of backgrounds, so we can actually, hopefully at some time offer a greater variety of knowledge and experience that these girls could leverage," said Lisa O'Brian, a lead volunteer for ChickTech, who spent her career working as a project manager for Microsoft in Seattle.

Right now, ChickTech is seeking volunteers for the day of the workshop, as well as looking for parents who want to register their daughters, and teachers who want to nominate interested girls to attend.

Intern Kate Coach contributed to this report.

ChickTech: High School
Fri. Nov. 30-Sat., Dec. 1
Oregon State University-Cascades
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Free for participants

About The Author

Nicole Vulcan

Nicole Vulcan has been editor of the Source since 2016. While the pandemic reduced "hobbies" to "aspirations," you can mostly find her raising chickens, walking dogs, riding all the bikes and attempting to turn a high desert scrap of land into a permaculture oasis. (Progress: slow.)

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