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Senior Haley Hammock Starts Girls Who Code Club at Waterford

Tuesday, January 2, 2018
Waterford's Girls Who Code chapter
Senior Haley Hammock works with girls on activity sets. 

It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. Middle and Upper School girls are gathered around a table, concentrating on a group of overturned red cups. Each red cup contains a slip of paper with the name of a variable. Haley Hammock shuffles the cups and then asks the girls to locate specific variables. Some guesses are correct, but most are wrong--no one can quite remember which cup holds which variable. Haley then attaches sticky notes to the outside of the cups and writes down the names of the corresponding variables held inside the cups. This time it’s simple. No matter how much shuffling Haley does, the variables are clearly labeled and easy to identify. “That’s why each variable you define in computer programs, you name,” explains Haley. “Otherwise they get lost in the computer data system.” The girls nod their heads in understanding as they snack on cookies.

This is the second meeting of Girls Who Code, a computer science club led by senior Haley Hammock. Girls Who Code is a national, nonprofit organization whose mission is “to close the gender gap in technology.” Girls Who Code was founded five years ago to provide girls with the computing skills and support they need to enter the technology workforce. Haley began a chapter at Waterford after learning of the organization from her stepmom, who is also in the computer science field.  

Most chapters of Girls Who Code are led by teachers or outside volunteers, but when Haley learned she was old enough (at the age of 18) to run the club herself, she jumped at the opportunity. “It’s unique that I’m running this program,” says Haley. “I didn't picture leading it at first, but after Mr. Manning asked if I wanted to lead it, I thought it would be really cool to do.”

“The whole point of this club is not to segregate men and women, but to promote women in a safe environment. A lot of girls feel that they don’t have what it takes to be in a CS-related field, or they feel that they’re not smart enough or don’t have the same ability that men have in the field. The whole point is telling women that they do have a place in this field and they can create as much change as anyone else can. This club creates a sisterhood that encourages girls to try new things and learn about a really cool subject.” -Haley Hammock 

Haley began taking computer science courses with Mr. Manning at the end of her sophomore year. After taking an HTML course, she was hooked. She moved on to AP Java and Python and then joined the Robotics team as one of their lead programmers. Haley was so enamored with programming that she applied to a summer computer science course at Harvard University. She was admitted to the course and spent two weeks at Harvard learning about C Programming. She returned from her program at Harvard to help with two of Waterford’s Summer Term courses: Robotics and Programming of Python. Through these courses, Haley discovered she enjoyed helping students pursue their interests in computer science.

Girls Who Code provided the perfect opportunity for Haley to combine her passions for teaching and coding. Haley wasn’t sure how many girls would join, but she did her best to promote the club and then anxiously awaited their first meeting. To her surprise, ten girls showed up to the computer science classroom on the first day. “I was nervous there were only going to be a couple of students,” admits Haley. “Most of these girls don’t have any experience, but they’re trying it. They’re having fun with it and I’m happy they’re giving it a chance. I hope it continues to grow.”

There are plenty of jobs to be found in today’s exploding technology sector, but women are far less likely to occupy these roles compared to their male counterparts. According to the Girls Who Code website, only 24% of computer scientists are women. Haley wants to change this statistic by encouraging more girls to enter the world of computer science. “Computer science is typically known as a man’s field,” says Haley. “The whole point of this club is not to segregate men and women, but to promote women in a safe environment. A lot of girls feel that they don’t have what it takes to be in a CS-related field, or they feel that they’re not smart enough or don’t have the same ability that men have in the field. The whole point is telling women that they do have a place in this field and they can create as much change as anyone else can. This club creates a sisterhood that encourages girls to try new things and learn about a really cool subject.”

The girls meet once a week to work through a computer science curriculum provided by Girls Who Code. Haley supplements the curriculum with some of her own lessons and skills she has learned through Waterford’s computer science program. Every chapter of Girls Who Code must deliver a computer science “Impact Project” by the end of their session. The only requirement of the Impact Project is that it makes an impact on society. After their first meeting, the girls decided to create a website on the gender wage gap. Haley hopes this website serves as an educational tool, but above all she hopes the project is a collaborative learning experience for the girls in the club.

Haley plans to pursue her love of computer science in college. She wants to major in computer science and go into software design. “I want to make an impact somehow with computer science. I want to design software that will change the world in ways unimaginable,” she says. “That’s what I love about this club. It makes an impact. I believe computer science is the next big thing that will save the world from potential problems that may arise.”