By Zoe Bundy

What area of STEM do you work in? What is your job title? Where do you work? Have you ever been the only girl in a class or meeting? If so, how does it feel?

“I’m a high school Senior in Bryn Mawr, PA and will be attending college in the fall.  I have always been interested in math, science, and particularly technology.  One day I’m hoping to combine my varied experiences and come up with something truly original that helps better our world.  My budding enthusiasm for technology led me to take programming classes outside of school, where I quickly realized it was a male-dominated industry (no one in my class knew where the key was to the girl’s bathroom…I was the first to ask). I would have felt more comfortable if more girls were in my classes and I couldn’t understand why. I discovered that women were being left out of the largest economic growth sector in the world and females need to be better represented in all areas of computer science. To help bridge this gap I created CodewithLilia.org and started recruiting girls to learn about computer coding. I created the CodewithLilia.org website to function as a teaching workshop that I present to after school girls programs and make peer-to-peer connections. I combine fun coding exercises with female related tech facts that generate interest in computer science. My website has also opened the door to connecting with girls outside of the Philadelphia area and I’m currently putting together a Team Leader program to help expand to more girls. The program will recruit teenage girls around the world to teach basic easy to run workshops and help spread the word faster.”

Do you have any advice for girls who may be the only one some day?

“Be confident and don’t be afraid to speak out. If you’re truly interested in something then stick with it. Think of all of the women and girls around the world who still don’t have the option to get an education. If you’re the only girl in your class or job then you are still lucky to be there so maintain your excitement about learning. Be strong for all of us because we can raise one girl and time.”

Did you think that one day you’d be where you are now?

“I don’t feel very far along at this point. I have so much more to learn and accomplish.”

What are two failures that have led to your success today?

“This is a difficult question. I can think of one failure that has made a great impact.

In the 6th grade, I volunteered one day a month at a school for children with autism called the TALK Institute. At the time, I had no understanding of autism, and I didn’t know anyone with disabilities. I ended my first visit feeling sad and disappointed in myself. Communicating with autistic children was very difficult and not what I had expected so I had felt awkward and standoffish. I worried that the students wouldn’t want to see me again because they could sense my feelings of insecurity and helplessness.  They deserved so much better and I wanted to find a way to bridge the gap. In working through my concerns, I realized that my sadness was actually feelings of empathy that I could channel into showing how much I care. My experience went much deeper than feeling sorry for the students. At my next visit, I used my empathetic feelings to nurture the children with genuine kindness.  Each visit became more rewarding for the students and for myself. They began to trust me, and I became familiar with their behaviors and could be more helpful to them. Through working with autistic students, I learned that you can almost never go wrong if you practice caring empathetic behaviors. Since helping at the TALK Institute, I have aspired to use the tools I learned to help all types of girls around the Philadelphia area learn basic computer coding classes. It has been challenging because not everyone is enthusiastic about learning. I’m dedicated to improving my skills at making every girl feel smart and capable, even those who are hesitant about participating.”

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your company?

“I love everything about what I’m doing with my charity.  The only thing I wish is that I had more time to spend on CodewithLilia.org.  I’m taking all honors classes which include two science classes and I also have a lot of after school activities this fall.  I have been doing a good job budgeting my time but I could always use more.”

What are two things you wish you would’ve known when you were younger?

“I have learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but of strength.  When you are able to reach out and recruit people to help you build a movement or business you hone your communication skills as well as appreciate how kind and generous people are. Try many new things and believe in yourself.  The “fear of failure” often means girls never try new things like coding and forego all the associated benefits. The sooner they are exposed and given encouragement the more likely they are to succeed.”