This is part of Break Through Tech Chicago’s series of HOW columns, which tell how women in technology got where they are today and how we can increase the presence of women in technology tomorrow — in “her own words.”

by Gina Gerace, current senior, UIC computer science

Growing up in the 21st century meant that I started using technology at a young age. However, it wasn’t until the summer leading up to my senior year of high school that I first got involved with the kind of technology that changed the course of my life.

That summer, I participated in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. Girls Who Code is an organization that seeks to increase and support the number of females in the tech field by teaching them to code at a young age. I spent seven weeks learning computer science topics along with nineteen other girls. We made games in Scratch, we programmed robots using Arduino, and we even did some website design with HTML. The point of the program wasn’t to make us experts in one area, but to give us a taste of many different topics. I was skeptical at first about spending half of my summer essentially in school, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

When the summer was over, I knew that computer science was something that I could see myself pursuing as a career. Girls Who Code gave me a safe and comfortable environment to learn and ask questions. It gave me a great base of knowledge that made me confident going into my first real computer science class. It showed me how many different ways technology can be used and how exciting it is to see your code work for the first time. Above all, it gave me a sense of community and belonging in a field that is dominated by men.

When I first started my computer science degree at UIC, I was exposed to a lot of technologies that I was unfamiliar with and I was definitely not in a classroom full of girls anymore. The ratio of men and women in my classes helped me realize how important the mission of Girls Who Code is and how much work needs to be done to close the gender gap in the tech field.

Fast-forward a few years and I am a student mentor for the Girls Who Code program at UIC. I get to spend Saturday mornings with a group of girls who are passionate about coding, and I have the chance to inspire them in the same way that I was inspired. Seeing the way they come to class each week eager to learn gives me hope that the next generation of female engineers will be brightest yet, and they will hopefully never experience being the only girl in the room.