Student Works to Increase Diversity In Computer Fields

XX Coders, a nonprofit organization, bridges gender and racial gap to teach young girls how to code.   Photo/Xxcoders.com

XX Coders, a nonprofit organization, bridges gender and racial gap to teach young girls how to code. Photo/Xxcoders.com

By Janee Law
jlaw@longislandergroup.com

Aditi Patil always had a passion for assisting girls to grow within  computer science, a demographic known to be geared towards boys.

While learning computer science herself, Patil, 17, of Melville, witnessed the gender and racial gap herself, attending Manhattan’s Flatiron School, a coding boot camp.

“There were boys and girls, but they were actually giving scholarships to girls so that they could come for free for two weeks,” Patil said. “They had to do all of that to get 50/50 enrollment for boys and girls, so that was one thing that stuck with me about how it is more difficult to get girls into coding.”

In addition, Patil, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School East, was also part of a girls’ code club at the Family Life Center in Wyandanch, which ended up canceling its program since the enrollment was sparse.

The end of the program was what inspired Patil to start XX Coders, a Hills East club and nonprofit summer camp and after school program that teaches young girls how to code.

“The mission for XX Coders is to teach young girls from all different backgrounds, communities, education levels and socioeconomic levels about coding and to close the gender gap and racial gap in computer science,” she said.

An avid science and mathematics enthusiast, Patil’s passion to help girls in those fields has always been present prior to the clubs development.

She added, “I only became aware of it once I got older, so now I want to consciously try to fix that gap between girls and guys.”

And she certainly has.

Since its founding two years ago, XX Coders has morphed into a nonprofit and branched out as an after-school program and summer camp in other communities, such as Wyandanch, where meetings are held at Family Life Center each Thursday, 5-6:30 p.m.

Starting with 10 girls at the high school, where meetings are held Tuesdays, 2-3 p.m., the club now has 20 members; the youth center has 15. With the high school club doubling in size, Patil said, an executive board has been established that also assists with the Wyandanch branch by recruiting girls within that school district.

Patil said XX Coders will also spread to other districts, including Brentwood High School, which plan to initiate the club for the 2018-2019 school year.

The organization participates in different activities and different focuses throughout the year. For instance, at the high school, members are creating an app to assist in the navigation of the school website, where students and teachers can have easy access to communicate with one another. Meanwhile, the youth center focuses on creating individual websites, creating blogs, personal bios, adding pictures, and writing up resumes.

“Now, we’re focusing on using more written up languages like Java and Python to create a web application so it will get more and more challenging from here,” she said.

What Patil is proud of is being able to see how girls start to perceive computer science in a different light.

“That’s been really rewarding and it was kind of my goal that they would not shy away from computer science or be scared to learn it or think of it as a boys’ thing,” Patil said. “It’s really important to get girls and other minorities in computer science because technology is in all of our lives, so it’s only fair that all of us have a say in it. More diverse opinions create better products, and I’ve already seen it in these girls.”

At that high school, Patil is also the STEM editor for the high school newspaper, “The Thunderbirds” and plays the oboe and piano.

Patil will be attending Columbia University next fall to study computer science at Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science in Manhattan. She said she hopes to bring XX Coders to the university community, as well as working remotely from campus to continue the nonprofit at both the high school and youth center.