Friday, November 11, 2011

GHC: Anita Borg Change Agent Winners

This year's ABI Change Agent award winners are Marita Cheng (Robogals) and Judith Owigar (Akirachix). It's unusual to see two winners, but these young women are so fascinating, I can see how got two!

The Small Victories
Presenter: Marita Cheng (Robogals)

Marita Cheng graduated in the top 0.2% in her country from high school, and was sought after by many schools. Her parents wanted her to medicine, so she'd have a nice, steady job. Cheng wasn't interested, though, so she found she couldn't answer any of the questions during her biology review - but the reviewer did suggest she follow her passion, engineering, instead of what her parents wanted her to do.

So, her career as an engineering student began. Cheng only knew two other girls from her small home town entering engineering, and thought this must just be because she was from a small town. That view was shattered when she actually arrived at school and couldn't find any women.

Cheng surveyed friends and others to try to figure out why this was. Through all her research, she discovered that middle school aged girls are not getting enough exposure to engineering - and Robogals began!

Cheng and her volunteers started teaching 10-14 year old girls how to build robots using the Lego Mindstorms during Australian school holiday in July.
Robogals now has 17 chapters in 6 countries, has taught over 3000 girls about engineering and use 1000 student volunteers.

Why 10-14 years old? It's the best time to capture their interest so that they still have enough time to get the right pre-requisites to explore engineering in university.

The charity is fully student run! Right now just in Australia and New Zealand, UK and Europe - will be expanding to the US in 2012.

And, yeah, Cheng is still a student, too! Wow!

Where Did All the Girls Go?
Presenter: Judith Owigar (Akirachix)

Judith Owigar from Nairobi, and while studying in Kenya, discovered a great dearth of other African women studying engineering and she wanted to fix this.

Africa really lacks infrastructure - no land lines, DSL, etc. Mobile phone technology has really changed the picture - giving more people a chance to connect in Africa.

In Kenya alone, they have 25 million mobile subscribers (64% of the population), and 12.5 million Internet users - mostly accessed via mobile phones. So, anything AkiraChix wants to do needs to be accessible via mobile phones.

The organization seeks women already in tech to train them to do outreach, give them networking opportunities and set them up with with high school girls that they can mentor.

Owigar believes that having more technical women in Africa can help end poverty. Education is the key to a successful life ahead. I've heard so many other people talk about this - more educated women have more control over how many children they have and their ability to feed and educate their children. That's how you end the cycle!

AkiraChix has been training high school girls in Java - and some of their former students are already developing software for Android!

Owigar is seeing more results, girls are forming tech businesses, going into new higher paying jobs, more confident, expanding their network and staying in tech.

Both really inspired me! Small changes are making a big difference already!

This post syndicated from Thoughts on security, beer, theater and biking!