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Tracy Frank, Published April 27 2010

TechGYRLS teaches science can be fun

Taylor Bowen begged her mother to let her participate in TechGYRLS.

Bowen’s mother, Barbara Villella, was at first reluctant to let her daughter sign up for one more activity, but she relented and says the program has been a blessing.

“It’s nice to have her creativity and sense of wonder (expressed) through TechGYRLS,” Villella said. “It really helps with the creative reasoning.”

Bowen, 10, of Fargo, said she loves technology and has always been good at science.

“I love all the different experiments that we do,” she said. “It’s very fun.”

TechGYRLS is a program offered to girls in grades four through seven that lets them explore technology. Student mentors from the North Dakota State University Society of Women Engineers work with the girls on projects such as building robots, catapults and contraptions to protect a dropped egg.

Audra Poehls has been a TechGYRLS mentor for three years. She said it’s a huge deal to expose young girls to opportunities like this because if they don’t know what’s out there, they can’t be expected to find it on their own.

“The biggest thing is just letting women and girls know that it’s an option,” Poehls said.

The TechGYRLS program has encouraged young girls in the Fargo area to get involved in the science, technology, engineering and math fields since 2003. It is a collaborative effort of the YWCA Cass Clay, NDSU Society of Women Engineers and Microsoft Fargo.

“It’s one of our primary goals to make certain there are educational opportunities for girls that might not otherwise exist,” said Erin Prochnow, YWCA Cass Clay executive director.

Prochnow said the program has expanded since Microsoft became involved two years ago. Microsoft has donated $123,000 in cash grants and $82,900 in software to TechGYRLS, and an education and employment program at the YWCA shelter.

In 2009, 189 girls participated in the program. That’s up from 39 in 2008.

Babs Coler, Microsoft Fargo community affairs manager, said the number of women going into technology fields is decreasing, and Microsoft is trying to change that by participating in programs like TechGYRLS.

Shon Hastings of Moorhead said she shied away from science and math as a child and lost opportunities because of it. She doesn’t want her 10-year-old daughter, Jennie, to miss out.

“It’s just a great way to introduce how fun it is to learn about science,” she said of TechGYRLS.

“I like that it has to do with science,” Jennie Hastings said. “That’s one of my favorite subjects.”

There are spring, fall and summer programs. A 10-week session is $30, and scholarships are available.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526