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Centennial High School student works with Chicago-based nonprofit to help young girls learn computer science

Centennial High School rising sophomore Nicole Luo, 15, is working to change the face of computer science.

Serving on the Youth Leadership Board for Code Your Chances, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that teaches young girls across the world the importance of computer science, she has dedicated her summer to help educate them in computer science, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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Growing up in a home where both of her parents work in computer science, the Ellicott City resident developed an interest in the field from an early age.

While searching for a summer internship for girls in computer science, she came across Code Your Chances, which organizes interactive workshops to help girls discover STEM fields and teach them about opportunities.

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Centennial High School rising sophomore Nicole Luo, 15, of Ellicott City, is working to change the face of computer science and serves on the Youth Leadership Board for Code Your Chances, a nonprofit organization that teaches young girls the importance of computer science. - Original Credit: Courtesy photo
Centennial High School rising sophomore Nicole Luo, 15, of Ellicott City, is working to change the face of computer science and serves on the Youth Leadership Board for Code Your Chances, a nonprofit organization that teaches young girls the importance of computer science. - Original Credit: Courtesy photo (Courtesy photo / HANDOUT)

“I instantly knew that [Code Your Chances] would be the perfect fit for me because I felt that their initiative was something that I had a personal connection to,” Luo said. “Growing up, I experienced what it’s like to be one of only a handful of girls participating in STEM-related activities and because of this, I wanted to find a way to get more girls involved in STEM and computer science.”

The Youth Leadership Board is an international group of young STEM leaders that work alongside Code Your Chances’ board of directors to create new projects while gaining experience working in a nonprofit organization. The youth board is selected quarterly through an application process and, in addition to Luo this quarter, has students from Illinois, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

As a member of the youth board, Luo’s job is to reach out to young girls by spreading the word about the organization on social media.

Through her work, she said she is playing a role in providing opportunities for young girls around the world to learn computer science.

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“[My job] is to spread this initiative and message that coding is for everyone regardless of gender, race or anything else,” Luo said.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that computer science and information research jobs are projected to grow 15% from now to 2029. However, women make up only 28% of the STEM workforce, according to national nonprofit American Association of University Women.

Dominique Roberts, who cofounded Code Your Chances with her sister, Gabrielle Roberts, said Luo has brought her unique experience to the organization since serving on the youth board.

“Her perspective as a woman in this field herself is really helpful, and she can help us better understand how to connect with other high school girls who might be interested in learning more,” said Dominique Roberts, a Chicago native who is working toward her Master of Laws at Harvard Law School. “I think teenage girls might be intimidated to start learning about computer science, so it’s really important that we have people on our team who can help us reach those students more effectively.”

Luo said she is grateful for the opportunity to help other young girls learn computer science.

“It means a lot to me because I feel like I’m actively doing something to break down gender stereotypes and barriers that have always existed,” Luo said.

“I believe many young girls are scared to pursue a career in STEM because there’s always that fear that your opinion won’t matter and that you won’t be able to truly make an impact as a female. If STEM and computer science continue to be male-dominated, then the opinions of women will be less and less focused on, and that’s something that I really want to get rid of.”

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