Updated: Apr 6
Last Saturday, Chattanooga’s Gig City Girls hosted their first female coding event that brought in nearly 300 participants! With the event’s impressive turnout, it is no question that the future looks bright for more girls wanting to make a career in STEM fields.
The founders of Gig City Girls, Hamilton County educators Michelle Bettis of Ooltewah High School, Nikki Russell of Orchard Knob Elementary, and Stephanie Montgomery of STEM School Chattanooga, turned their venture into a reality last fall through PEF’s Teacherpreneur. The concept initially started when Bettis expressed to STEM School Chattanooga principal, Dr. Tony Donen, the idea that there should be a district-wide event for females in STEM. Around that same time, the 2018-2019 Teacherpreneur cohort was about to begin. Bettis saw the opportunity to be part of this program and recruited Russell and Montgomery. Bettis, who also has a background in teaching middle school students at East Hamilton, believed they had a great group, as all K-12 grade levels were well represented between the three of them.
The goal for the Gig City Girls event was to not only be Chattanooga’s largest female coding event, but to primarily spark girls’ interest in coding and STEM subjects. “The purpose of this event is to get the awareness out in the community about the lack of girls in coding and STEM fields,” shared Russell. Promoting girls in STEM throughout all communities is of great importance to the trio, especially in Chattanooga. “We want girls in our community to have the ability to be equipped to take on jobs right here in our own Gig City," said Russell. She continued to note that Gig City Girls stresses the fact that the need for more women in STEM is apparent. “We’re trying to look at that trajectory of how we can support the workforce in our own community.”
This innovative, hands-on tech event sparked several creative interests through virtual reality, coding, problem solving, and more. “It has been an eye-opening experience learning about coding and all the opportunities that are out there for our young women,” shared Montgomery. “I’m excited to see where this goes from here and having the ability to help more girls see all the opportunities that they have.” Gig City Girls also drew in numerous volunteers to help coordinate each event station, including students, mothers, and several Hamilton County educators.
In addition to the variety of engaging activities, several attendees won raffle prizes, such as Code Master, Lego Friends, & Clue Master throughout the afternoon. They also had local organizations setup around the space, including Women Repair Zone, fellow Teacherpreneur's The Passage, and Gold Bird Designs, who donate 100% of their profits to Born on the Edge.
Bettis shared her thoughts about STEM and about the Gig City Girls organization. “There’s a big need for this,” said Bettis. When she first started the STEM club at East Hamilton, she noticed it provided an outlet for many young girls who were not involved with other after-school activities. “They were really excited to have something to plug into after school. I think that it meets an underserved population, not just at East Hamilton, but at schools throughout the district. We’re really happy with the turnout.” Jocelyn Baucom, eighth-grade student at East Hamilton, has been part of the after-school STEM program since she began middle school. “In sixth grade, I became involved with the coding club after school hosted by Ms. Bettis," shared Baucom, "and I became really interested in coding and STEM activities through that, because she would make it so much fun." When asked about what draws her to STEM, Baucom shared, “I enjoy learning though problem-solving, which is what STEM is largely all about.” Baucom, who plans to attend STEM School Chattanooga in the fall, also volunteered at Saturday’s event with her mother. The fun, family-oriented event drew in entire families throughout the whole afternoon.
Russell and Bettis are both first generation college graduates from their families, and Bettis details the important role parents have on their children’s career decisions. “I think it’s important that we keep girls informed of all careers and show them that they can be anything they want to be,” shared Bettis. “Studies show that parents are the number one influencer on which type of career students choose. I would like to encourage parents to take the opportunity to talk to their kids about all careers, so that they can find something that they’re interested in learning.”
At the beginning of the event, Russell mentioned that they hope to make the Gig City Girls celebration an annual event. Given the amazing attendance they had, there is clearly an interest for this in our community. Thank you Gig City Girls for driving awareness for the need for more females in STEM and for hosting a fun-filled afternoon of innovative, hands-on learning activities for women! We are looking forward to see what the future holds for Gig City Girls.
*Check out more pictures from the Gig City Girls coding event in the gallery below: