FARGO - Seventh grader Zoe Bundy knows what it's like to feel outnumbered. When she joined Tech Leaders at Discovery Middle School last year, she was the only girl in a class of 29. That ratio improved over the summer when the aspiring software engineer attended "Crack The Code: Summer Tech Camp for Girls" through uCodeGirl, a Fargo-based nonprofit dedicated to empowering young girls to build confidence and pursue careers in technology.
At the summer camp, Bundy worked on robotics, web and app design.
"What did I like about uCodeGirl summer session? Everything!" she says. "I was very happy to find a coding camp and realize I wasn't the only girl who liked it."
But Bundy's tech education didn't end at summer camp.
On Tuesday, uCodeGirl launched "Crack the Code: Stem Mentorship for Girls," an eight-month program that brings together area female industry professionals, entrepreneurs, educators and leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to mentor girls ages 12 to 18.
Betty Gronneberg, founder and CEO of uCode Girl, says they have 42 mentor/mentee pairs.
"I'm overwhelmed by the generosity of women in the community who are sharing their time and talents," Gronneberg says. "So many of them just said, 'Yes! Sign me up!' "
Gronneberg says part of the goal of the program is to create a welcoming and supportive environment where girls can thrive at an age when they're already self-aware.
"Building confidence comes from seeing other women in STEM fields," Gronneberg says. "The documented problem is there are not enough women in these fields. They bring a diverse female voice and different experiences to the table."
In fact, Gronneberg says women make up only 18 percent of America's computer science graduates. In North Dakota and Minnesota, the numbers are even lower at 14 percent. Part of the strategy for improving those numbers is making sure women who are working in technology are accessible to the upcoming generation, helping younger girls gain experience and make connections with one another.
Bundy says while the summer session taught her about leadership and teamwork, she's looking forward to learning even more through the mentorship program.
"I like working in a team, but I also like working one-on-one and meeting someone who is the future me," she says.
The mentoring sessions will include not only skills-based learning, but career exploration and a chance to connect with other like-minded girls. Bundy has already found a handful of girls who are interested in joining the Tech Leaders at Discovery, so she might not be the lone girl this time around.
In addition to providing the girls with experience and accessibility to mentors, taking part in a program like this makes economic sense - giving the girls a head start in the booming tech field which offers career potential and high income possibilities. Gronneberg says the girls have so much going for them, and this is just one more weapon in their arsenal.
"With so many of these young girls, the confidence is there already," Gronneberg says. "We can just help it to shine."