FARGO-Madison Christensen was the only girl in the sixth-grade tech club at Agassiz Middle School in 2004. Her friends didn't share or understand her interest in computers, but her brother encouraged her to stick with it.
"I just remember my brother saying, 'Maddie, if you like it, do it. You don't need to follow what other people are doing,' " Christensen said. "I'm glad he did that."
Today, she is a successful design and marketing web developer for Intelligent InSites. She also devotes time to encourage other young girls through her involvement with uCodeGirl, a nonprofit established to increase the participation of girls in technology careers.
The organization was founded by Betty Gronneberg, Christensen's former co-worker at Intelligent InSites. Gronneberg earned her undergraduate degree at the Addis Ababa University in her home country of Ethiopia. She came to the United States in 1998 and went on to earn a master's degree in software engineering at North Dakota State University.
Gronneberg said she, too, has often been one of just a few women in school or the workplace. She started to research why a few years ago. What she found was that girls' interest in science, technology, engineering and math typically wanes by middle school.
One reason, she said, is "you can't be what you don't see." Girls don't consider careers in technology because they often don't have female role models or mentors.
Last year, she founded uCodeGirl as a way to provide technology classes, tutoring and mentorship to young girls.
"I wanted to help demystify computer science. You don't have to be a whiz in math to be a part of it," she said. "It's a fun, rewarding career as well as it solves human problems in many different sectors."
Gronneberg began last summer by organizing two-day Metro Middle School Tech Camps for girls in grades 6, 7 and 8 at Carl Ben Eielson and Discovery Middle Schools.
This summer, uCodeGirl will host Crack the Code, an eight-day tech camp for girls ages 12 to 17 at North Dakota State University.
Crack the Code's first week will concentrate on "building girls' confidence to crack code and create prototype solutions for real-world problems." The girls will design and build a website for Heart & Soul Cafe. They'll interview the owners and then design a prototype based on what they want in a website. They'll learn to collaborate and brainstorm as a group.
During the second week, the girls can choose whether to continue building the website or work on other app development or robotics projects.
Gronneberg said the goal is to show young girls there are many different career paths in the technology sector, such as graphic design, animation and electrical engineers.
The event has wide support from area businesses and universities.
Participation in the camp is part of a year-long membership that will include tutoring, mentorship, field trips, job shadows and possible internships. Gronneberg advises anyone interested to register soon to take advantage of available scholarships. No previous coding or computer experience is required.
Gronneberg said uCodeGirl is so important because the U.S. is experiencing a skills gap in the technology sector that is expected to continue to grow in the coming years.
According to statistics revealed at last summer's State of Technology summit held last summer, there were 600,000 job openings in the U.S. that required a four-year computer science degree, yet the nation produced only 40,000 computer science graduates. In North Dakota, there were 900 openings and only 116 students earned a computer science degree in 2015.
Gronneberg said it is important to build a pipeline to fill those positions.
IF YOU GO
Who: Girls ages 12 - 17
What: Crack the Code: Technology Day Camp for Girls
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 19 - 22 and 26 - 28
Where: North Dakota State University's STEM building
Contact: Call (701) 446-8269 or email firstname.lastname@example.org