Digital Youth Divas Creates Lifelong Learning

When we think of coding, we don’t normally think of dancing. But at Digital Youth Divas, that’s just what it entails. It’s why the program is such a draw for middle school girls--it’s STEM learning through fashion, dance, and social activities. And while the Digital Youth Divas program is unique for many reasons, the most notable is the lasting impact it leaves on the girls who participate.

“I’ve always liked to do stuff with electronics,” said 12-year-old River, who took part in the summer session. “And not only did we learn to create circuits, but were also taught how to sew with needle and thread, and learned about colors and the color wheel. I feel like now I have more knowledge than I had before about circuits, and a real understanding of how they work.”

River hopes to go into a field involving electronics or coding when she grows up, and said Digital Youth Divas got her to move in that direction.

“I also think it was very important they had a program just for girls,” she said. “People are always pushing boys to be engineers and computer scientists and stuff, but this showed us, you’re a girl but you can do these things too. It was a really comfortable environment and space and really encouraged us to try our hardest.”

Program founder Dr. Nichole Pinkard recognized that girls weren’t accessing technology in the same way as boys, so she set out to find an alternative view of what tech integration, science, and engineering look like. Through Digital Youth Divas, girls can access technology and can see that electronics, engineering, and coding can be used in creative and social ways that will last throughout their lives.

Milan Falls, age 11, also feels she greatly benefited from the Digital Youth Divas program.

“We got to learn about all different types of technology, which I think will help me in many ways in my life,” she said.

This is exactly the type of attitude Katelyn Hutchison, a former Digital Youth Divas participant and now mentor in the program, hopes to foster.

“It’s really cool to be a mentor because you’re passing down this knowledge, and you can show other girls that there are no boundaries about what you can or can’t have or do when it comes to learning and making your own things,” she said.

Katelyn says at the beginning of the program she and other mentors asked girls to name what a tech designer looked like in their minds, and all of the girls described men.

“But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can be who you want to be, and if you want to go out and be a doctor or scientist or go into coding, no one can stop you,” she said.

Going through the program herself while in middle school helped Katelyn once she got to high school. When she took physics class, she says she realized she already understood a lot about electricity and circuits. Though she wants to be a writer someday, she said the knowledge and empowerment gained in Digital Youth Divas has helped her in school and will continue to help her throughout her life.

“It’s important to teach people, because it’s good to know how and why things work, and it’s good to know that just because there’s an invisible boundary it doesn’t mean you have to follow it,” Katelyn said.

The Digital Youth Divas program is divided into three tracks. The e-fashion track teaches girls how to use conductive materials as a base for fashion design, creating light-up accessories and jewelry with LED lights. The e-paper track shows girls how to create paper products, like greeting cards, that light up, and the third track builds on these skills and introduces coding with creativity such as making music videos.

The program was awarded a National Science Foundation grant this year and was featured in the Chicago Tribune last summer.

“I felt like doing after the program, thinking back on it, I would definitely like to do something like that again,” says River. “It showed me that it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, but these are things that everyone can do.”

Digital Youth Divas is offering a free Saturday program this spring from January through May. Space is limited, and spots go quickly! Register here!