TechnoTeens bring coding, robotics to the library

When Srishti Pithadia heads off to college next fall, she will leave behind a new generation of like-minded girls to carry on her enthusiasm into science and technology.

Pithadia, a rising senior at Trumbull High, has spent the last two years on an almost single-person effort to get girls more involved in STEM activities. It began two years ago when she enrolled in a computer science class where she was one of three girls, and continued last year when she began participating in the school’s robotics competitions as the only girl.

“I, along with the other girls in class, found programming to be completely and utterly captivating,” Srishti said. “It made me wonder why not many other girls felt the same way.”

Library Director Stefan Lyhne-Nielsen, who helped provide space and support for Srishti and her girl coders last year and this year, said the answer may come down to basic role modeling.

“Some of the research, particularly when it comes to getting kids into science and technology, points to the fact that being able to visualize yourself doing something is the deciding factor,” Lyhne-Nielsen said. “If you can’t see yourself being a doctor, scientist or programmer, then you aren’t going to succeed. That’s why it’s important to bring in female IT people to show them, ‘Look, there is someone who looks like you that is doing it.’”

Seeing a need to bring more girls into technological fields, Srishti started TechnoTeens, an initiative in educating, introducing and inspiring more girls to pursue technology by teaching them computing concepts with fun, interactive activities. The effort is supported through a technology outreach program funded by Intel, Northrop Grumman and Google.

Last year Srishti taught a dozen girls computer coding. This year TechnoTeens has expanded into a series of weeklong camps from June to August. So far the TechnoTeens have spent a week learning Java coding, and two more weeks on robotics. The final camp, which starts July 30 at the library and is open to boys and girls, will focus on Swift, the programming language of the Apple ios devices.

Having gotten Trumbull teens started on coding and other STEM-related pursuits, Srishti has one more challenge ahead of her — convincing her parents to let her take her technological talents west.

“I’ve always wanted to go away to college and study computer science,” she said. But with her parents desiring her to stay closer to home, Srishti has spent her high school years gradually expanding the geographical locations that are acceptable to everyone.

“I got them as far as Texas this year,” she said. “Maybe I’ll make it to California for college.”