When I was awarded the Design For Change fellowship and officially became an Opportunity Fund fellow at General Assembly I felt a deep responsibility along with my excitement. One of the stipulations of the fellowship was to volunteer 100 hours in service to a local organization to teach youth some of the skills I learned in the User Experience Design Immersive.
I felt a responsibility to assist any young person with a similar background as me who wants to pursue a career in technology. I know how isolating it can be to feel under-represented in a field you desperately want to work in. The challenges to entering STEM careers can be discouraging to minority and/or female youth unless they have mentors who they can relate to.
I had read blogs by previous Opportunity Fund fellows about their experiences volunteering before I began my 10-week journey in UX. They talked about how much they learned by teaching others, and how their nervousness was subdued after volunteering.
When I learned that Black Girls Code would be hosting the three-day IGNITE: International Girl’s Hackathon, in tandem with the Global Fund for Women, I knew I had to be involved. The challenge for the participants, all between the ages of 7-17, was to create mobile applications that provide a safe space for women and girls.
On the first night of the event, the other mentors and I expressed our eagerness to begin. The girls began thinking about what ‘safe space’ means to them, and how they can create apps that reflect that. Women and girls worldwide face many challenges because of gender inequality. In addition to poverty, violence, and inadequate access to healthcare, many girls are prevented from seeking a quality education. It was a poignant moment when I realized that the girls were not just developing an app for others, but that they could also benefit from its creation.
Once the teams were formed, I noticed that some of the girls seemed tired and not very engaged. We began by introducing them to the app building tool that we would all be using over the weekend. I decided to show the group an interface I designed that featured a gif of the character Huey from the popular comic strip “The Boondocks.” All of the girls recognized it and that quickly sparked their enthusiasm for the tool. At that moment, I learned just how important it is to find common ground with the group you’re working with. That simple gif brought so much unexpected energy and delight to our conversation.
Once the girls saw what the tool could accomplish, they began asking questions about how they could use it to build their app. We ended the night by wireframing our app and writing some of its features and problem/solution statements. I spent some time teaching them about prioritizing user needs, which was really fun for everyone.
By Sunday evening, our app was finished and the team was presenting their work in front of friends and family. I watched the girls explain how the application created a safe space for girls. Called Confidence Coalition, the app features a diary, a game, and multiple links to resources where girls can learn about STEM subjects and maintaining physical health.
I’m proud of the work my team did and confident that organizations like Black Girls Code will go far in increasing in the number of minorities and women in tech careers. I appreciate General Assembly for being a hub of this very important work.
Danielle did quality assurance at The Gap before becoming a UX expert through Opportunity Fund’s Design for Change Fellowship. She aims to increase diversity tech by volunteering with Black Girls Code.