Go Local donates 3% of each issue’s advertising revenue to a local nonprofit organization.
This issue supports Code Girls United.
Code Girls United
Q&A with Executive Director Marianne Smith
What is your mission statement?
We’re working to expand the future career opportunities of today’s fourth through eighth grade girls through hands-on experiences in coding, technology, and business.
What services and programs do you provide?
Code Girls United is a free statewide after-school program for fourth through eighth grade girls as well as tribal high school girls. Students identify a local community problem and work to create and design an app that helps address the issue. During the weekly Code Girls meetings, they learn the basics of computer science, coding, and practical business skills. The program culminates in the Northwest Regional App Challenge each spring. We also have an advanced program in Kalispell for girls who have worked through our standard program and are ready to learn Python or Java coding languages.
What’s your backstory?
Code Girls United began right here in Kalispell in 2017. Our founders had backgrounds in engineering, computer science, business, and education and came together around the idea of teaching coding, problem solving, technology and business skills to young girls. We started with a group of girls bringing their own computers to meet in the basement of Sykes Restaurant, but quickly realized we needed a better setup. We moved to Russell Elementary, incorporated as a nonprofit, and by 2020 had two programs running in the valley.
During the pandemic, we took our instruction online, which allowed us to formalize our curriculum and create programs that could be scaled and replicated outside the Flathead Valley. We currently have Code Girls United programs in 25 locations across Montana, with different curriculums for our standard, advanced, and tribal programs. We have partnered with schools, libraries, Boys and Girls Clubs, United Way, and other STEM programs, introducing more and more Montana girls each year to the world of coding, technology, and business..
How have you seen the need for your services change?
As more companies move to Montana, technology plays an increasingly important role across all industries. As a result, Code Girls has expanded throughout the state and demand for our programs has grown. As remote working becomes more prevalent, computer science and technology education is even more important for the economic success of Montana and for our childrens’ futures. The growth of our tribal program is in response to the pressing need our tribal communities have for access to technology education.
What’s something you’ve learned from your work that you wish more people knew?
Although our name “Code Girls United” makes it sound like all we do is teach computer coding, we’ve found that teaching self-confidence, business skills, and soft skills—such as learning to work in a team and make decisions together—are just as important. Code Girls may not grow up into computer programmers, but the additional skills they acquire in our program, like learning to present your work to a large group of people and defend your ideas, are transferable to any industry. We’ve seen our program create empowered young women who are also comfortable using technology to
What kinds of assistance would help your organization?
We need volunteers for our Flathead Valley programs to help with classes. We need teachers willing to work part-time for us. We are always looking for help with our organization and fundraising efforts.
On the fundraising side, we are a nonprofit and are funded by organizations and donors who are as passionate about what we do as we are. We would appreciate direct donations, donations during the Whitefish Community Foundation Great Fish Community Challenge, attendance at our fundraising events, and sponsorships for the Northwest Regional App Challenge each spring.
How would you ideally like to affect the Flathead Valley?
We would like to see all Flathead Valley girls have the opportunity to participate in Code Girls United or other programs like it. We want the next generation of Montana women to be confident in their business and technical skills as well as their ability to think critically and solve problems effectively.
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