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Local students take advantage of Girls Who Code summer program

A group of Chicago-area students participating in the Girls Who Code summer program work on a lighted circuit board project. | Natalie Watts/Sun-Times

After her first day in Girls Who Code’s immersive summer program, 17-year-old Isis didn’t want class to end.

“It was just too awesome to leave,” she said.

The national non-profit, which aims to bring women into technology-based fields, sponsors two-hour clubs once a week for middle- and high-school girls during the school year.

But during the summer, high school sophomores and juniors can apply to the free, seven-week summer immersion program; five are held in Chicago.

Isis’ class of 20 spends six hours a day, five days a week at the management consulting firm Accenture, 161 N. Clark St.

The girls learn to program across web, mobile, game and robotics platforms.

The class mostly focuses on project-based learning, underscoring the real-world applications of the lecture topics, Meriem, 17, said. (Participants could be identified only by first name.)

The teens present final projects at the end of the program, said Bill Milleker, Accenture’s managing director. “They’re the kinds of projects a room full of boys would never think up.”

A past project included a game in which a de-feathered chicken had to run around a factory picking up its feathers before getting caught by a machine, Milleker said.

“It’s a really positive experience,” said Lindsay Abney, a Girls Who Code mentor who works for Accenture. “These girls are going to be hiring me one day.”

Abney said mentors discuss everything from resume-writing to Pokemon Go with the program’s participants.

During Friday field trips and panel discussions with industry women, Isis often asks how they feel being female in the male-dominated technology industry.

“They either love it or they don’t notice it,” she said.

In 1945, six women were hired by the military as the first six computer programmers, according to the army’s history office. Yet since the 1980s, the percentage of female computer scientists has dropped from 37 to 18 percent, according to officials with Girls Who Code.

The non-profit remains optimistic. About 10,000 girls in 42 states are now in the program, according to founder Reshma Saujani.

And you don’t need to know how to code to apply.