According to the Girls Who Code website, 37% of computer scientists were women in 1995. Today, that number has decreased to 24%. Only 19% of students who receive a degree in computing identify as female and only 2% identify as women of color. These inequitable outcomes inspired Claire Cunliffe, Upper School math teacher at Friends School of Baltimore, to dedicate her career to creating more equitable STEM experiences.
Cunliffe desired to become a math teacher after taking an honors Algebra II course in high school where her teacher only called on the male-identified students. She ended up dropping out of her other rigorous STEM classes and didn’t reconnect with her passion for math until college. Cunliffe followed that enthusiasm for math to Friends School, where she instructs all levels of Upper School learners.
In February 2020, Cunliffe and a dedicated team of other faculty and student designers launched a STEAM Expo for rising 9th-graders who identify as girls. The Expo was designed to “give the students more exposure to the opportunities open and available to them in the Upper School around Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics,” says Upper School Division Head, Steve McManus.
The Expo featured a keynote from Imani White ‘18, who is studying Computer Science at the University of Maryland- Eastern Shore and a series of tabletop presentations and activities run by Upper School female students. The presentations were designed to showcase STEAM opportunities in the Upper School from Advanced Mathematics course pathways to Robotics Team, and the new cross-divisional Girls Who Code club.
The FSB Girls Who Code chapter, open to women-identified and non-binary students, is led by faculty advisors Gab Sussman, Tracy Thompson, and Cat Noppenberger alongside Ms. Cunliffe. The club, which has 19 students from all three divisions, is currently working on a Java chat bot project and an animation game. For the 2020-21 academic year, the students are hoping to participate in the Creatica Hackathon with some of Upper School teacher Heather Romney’s students.