HOWTO: Create an award for girls in tech

Emma Jane Hogbin is an open source nerd, crafty advocate and small town champion. She blogs at; this HOWTO was originally posted there.

This week I started an award at my former high school for a senior female student that has demonstrated creative use of technology. She doesn’t need to have the best marks, she doesn’t need to have sustained performance. She just needs to have shown a sliver of inspiration and interest in technology to be rewarded and encouraged. In the game of Alice’s Restaurant and World Domination, you have to start by doing one thing different. Here’s the FAQ on why I did it and how you can start your own award too.

Why a high school award?
Every November at West Hill Secodary School there’s an award ceremony. Kids who win awards get to stand up in front of their entire school and be recognized for something they’ve accomplished. The whole school claps. The award winner then gets a line on their resume that says they’ve won an award. It doesn’t matter how much money the award is, you still get to say that you’re an award winning student and that can be the difference between getting accepted into the program you want, and just being another faceless application.

Creative use of tech? Huh? What’s up with that?
This isn’t an award for being a nerd or being a jock. It’s an award for two words that hardly ever go together in high school: creativity and technology. That means an entire school full of students are going to be exposed to the idea of creative and technology going together. It comes with a small sum of money, which means some of the students will work towards achieving this award.

Why a senior student?
This is an award that students can work towards over the course of their four years in high school. Student projects in the junior grades (ought to be about) mastering specific techniques and tools, by their senior years students should have the skills they need to start expressing themselves with the tools they’ve learned. Of course there are some truly exceptional young technologists (Drupal has a 13 year old core developer who’s already been around for two or three years), but these geniuses are probably winning other awards too.

Why a female student?
Because I want to encourage girls to use technology in ways that interest them.

I am still working with West Hill to roll out the award, but it was remarkably easy to get the process started. Here’s how you too can start an award to encourage girls to stay engaged with technology.

  1. Phone up your alma mater (your old high school).
  2. Ask to speak with the guidance department. These folks know everything. Tell them you’re an alumni and that you want to sponsor an award. You will be redirected to the right department from here.
  3. When you redirected to the right department, start over. Explain that you want to sponsor an award.
  4. Choose your own criteria, but don’t be too specific. If you are too specific will be too difficult to match your award to a student (and they may not be able to actually give the award out). The school should work with you to come up with the exact language for the award criteria and the name of the award. Have some ideas before you phone.
  5. Make the amount of the award up to the value of one billable hour of your time. The award is not about the amount of money, it’s about (1) promoting technology (2) giving a student a line on their resume. It’s also about being sustainable. You want to make sure you can afford to give this award every year. In some cases you may be asked to set up a fund for an ongoing award. If you have the funds, go ahead and do that. If not, ask if you can sponsor a one-time award. In my case they didn’t ask for anything more than this year’s award. They will send me a form letter next year to remind me to send another cheque.
  6. Write a cheque to the appropriate school division. (Mine is made out to the school board.) You should be issued a tax receipt for your donation. Ask them about this if they don’t mention it.

And that’s it! One billable hour of your money (and a stamp and envelope for the cheque). 20 minutes of your time. And you have made a female student an award winning technologist. Now get out there and do it!

7 thoughts on “HOWTO: Create an award for girls in tech

  1. Yvi

    Oh, that sounds very nice! I don’t yet have any kind of billable hour value, as I am still a student., but I will keep that idea in mind. I had three years of programming classes in ‘high school’ (I am not from the US, hence the quotes) without which I might have never gone into that direction. For the first year we had a girl-only and a mixed class, which many of my fellow students found nice and I think only because of that we were 5 female and 6 male students in that class the last year.

    Anyway, I think it’s great you did that and that you are telling others how to do that.

      1. Yvi

        We started the course in eleventh grade (we had 13 over here when I was in school) with two courses, both with between 22-28 people, if I remember correctly. About 20-something girls and the same number of boys or something. After the first year there was only one course of 20 people left and 11 of us stayed until the end. As far as I can tell two people went into a CS direction after school, one into engineering.

        As a bit of an aside, I personally wasn’t thrilled by being in the all-girls course, but the other one clashed with my time schedule – normally, you could choose, but me taking maths, chemistry, biology, and programming made my schedule a bit of a nightmare. I can now see how it was a good thing we had it, though. People asking basic questions might have annoyed me because I was usually the one that had to answer them, being done with the exercises first, but at least they felt more comfortable asking them.

      2. Mackenzie

        We started whenever we wanted, but if we wanted to take all 3 years we’d have to start in 10th grade. There was one other girl taking VB 1 (1 semester), but she was gone for VB 2. There were about 45 people total in VB 1. VB 2 had more like 25-30 kids, with me as the only girl. Java 1 had 14. Java 2 has *never* been run since 1/2 the Java 1 kids graduate, and then there aren’t enough students left to run Java 2.

    1. Terri

      We had several levels of “programming class” — I “fondly” remember losing marks on an assignment ’cause my teacher couldn’t understand the if statement I used (I think it had an and and an or or something. Yes, I meant those duplicated words.). He was a very nice calculus teacher who was simply out of his element, and now that I’m an adult I have a lot more sympathy… but if I’d relied upon lessons in school, I likely never would have stuck with programming. (As it happens, my interest was greatly nurtured by other students where my teachers failed.)

      Anyhow, love this idea, and will keep it in mind. I’m more tempted to do something for my elementary school, which is less affluent than my secondary, but the logistics would probably be slightly different… have to think about it.

      1. emmajane

        Elementary schools have awards too! They also have science fairs. All of which probably needs sponsorship; however, this is not about trying to fund an entire generation of girls. This is about helping one female student to become an AWARD WINNER! You’re giving a student a sense of pride that she’ll carry with her the rest of her life when you bestow her with an award. Let’s make more girls proud of their interest in technology and make them award winners. :)

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