Ed note: this post originally appeared on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State’s official blog
Our inaugural class of 25 TechGirls arrived in New York City late on the evening of Monday, June 25. For almost all of them, it was the first time they had set foot in the United States from their home countries in the Middle East and North Africa. We could immediately see what an amazing, talented, and passionate group of young women we would have the privilege of working with.
In July 2011, Secretary Clinton announced the launch of TechGirls -- a three-week, intensive youth exchange -- "to encourage innovation and promote the spread of new technologies to give women and girls the support that they need to become leaders in this field." Our Embassies ran a very competitive selection process, identifying the best and brightest young women with high achievements and aptitude in mathematics, science, and technology. There was no better example than Mai, a young woman from Alexandria, Egypt, who is a self-described “computer freak” who wants to be a cardiologist when she grows up. Mai believes that technology can provide better services for citizens based on her experience during last year's protests in Tahrir Square. Back in February 2011, Mai witnessed how Egyptians used social media to bring food and medical supplies to those who needed it most. She is inspired by this example and wants to replicate and extend it among a wider community in her home country.
Our TechGirls kicked off their adventure with three days in New York City, organized by Legacy International whose mission is to strengthen civil society and foster peace-building and conflict resolution worldwide. During that time, they had the opportunity to connect with Rachel Sterne, Chief Digital Officer for New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg; Global Kids, which works to develop youth leaders for the global stage; DoSomething.org, an organization which encourages young people to create their own vision for making a difference in their community; Souktel, which designs and delivers mobile phone services that link people with jobs and connect aid agencies with communities who need help; and an amazing team of female engineers and business development leaders at Google offices in NYC. Through these discussions, the TechGirls were able to see a variety of ways in which women can becomes leaders in the science and technology space.
The TechGirls came down to Washington, D.C., at the end of last week. On their first full day in the District, they spent the afternoon meeting many women in senior leadership positions at the White House, including the Office of Digital Strategy, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The TechGirls were joined at the White House by young women from West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Virginia. The TechGirls and the American students had meaningful discussions, sharing their enthusiasm for science and technology and experiences in science fairs around the world -- after just a couple of hours together, they walked out of the room promising to stay in touch and continue the conversation.
For their remaining time in the United States, the TechGirls will participate in the Wonder Space Tech Camp, hosted on American University's campus. The girls will have the chance to develop hands-on skills, such as programming, robotics, mobile application building, web design, video graphics, and 3D game design. They'll also connect with many players in the growing D.C. tech community, and develop the community projects they'll carry out when they return home.
It has been an absolute blast getting to know our inaugural group of TechGirls. The Department of State, like the great team behind Girls Who Code, recognizes the importance of inspiring young women to pursue educational and professional opportunities in the science and technology sphere. TechGirls is proving to be a fantastic exchange program for these young women, providing emerging talent with the skills and resources to pursue their dreams.
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Suzanne Philion serves as the Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.