TCS Alum Inspires Girls to Programming

When Sara Chipps entered TCS in 1997 as a junior, she noticed something special immediately.

“One thing I really appreciated about TCS was the focus on academics not just from the teachers, but the students. TCS was the first place where being good academically was seen as a very positive thing among my peers, and not a nerdy thing.”

That was good news for this driven young lady as she was free to pursue what she loved – computer programming.

Wendy Gall, who is still a teacher at TCS, and on the cutting edge of computer programming world-wide, gave Chipps the motivation she needed to pursue her dreams during her C++ class.

“Mrs. Gall is one of the big reasons why I got into programming. I had tinkered with computers at home when I was younger and I was programming even though I didn’t know that’s what I was doing,” says Chipps. “Mrs. Gall was a great teacher, very inspiring and when I was able to see another female programmer in her, and see that she really enjoyed it, that was really helpful as far as solidifying computer programming as a career path.”

Chipps went on to pursue her dream at Penn State. She is now a successful business owner and entrepreneur, and her latest product: Jewelbots was recently featured on Good Morning America.

“In 2010, a female friend and I were discussing how we often felt odd asking questions in our computer programming classes in college because we were the only girls,” explains Chipps. “We felt maybe we were supposed to know the answers. We didn’t want to call any attention to ourselves.”

While there has been more of a nationwide focus to attract girls to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related fields, women who make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, only represent 29% of the science and engineering workforce.*

“A 2010 study found that 14% of computer science graduates were female.  So we knew it was a problem we wanted to solve,” says Chipps.

Chipps and her colleague decided to teach computer class to women. It was a class that encouraged them to ask any question they had even if they felt it was “dumb.”

The first MeetUp.com class was held in NYC. It was highly successful, selling out in just a few hours. Their classes developed into a foundation called Girl Develop It.

The organization has taught more than 60,000 students in more than 50 U.S. cities. If that were not successful enough, the classes sparked another idea.

“One thing I heard often from our students in the Girl Develop It classes was that they didn’t know what an engineer was until they were in college and by then it was too late. They just didn’t know it was something they could do until they got to college,” explains Chipps. “I started talking to some of my male peers and asked them when they started programming and why they got into it. What I heard most often was that they got into gaming in their middle school years and decided when they grew up they wanted to be a game developer. So we created Jewelbots to inspire girls in the same way.”

Jewelbots are bracelets you wear that detect your friends when they are nearby. They will glow the same color that you choose for your friendships. Girls can use them to send secret messages to each other. The device uses Bluetooth to communicate.

The girls get to use coding to build games, do special kinds of messaging, talk to their phones or their Instagram accounts!

“Friendship is one of the most important things for young girls. So this is a way that we can get to the heart of little girls and teach them this field and they respond to it really well,” says Chipps.

As Chipps climbs the ranks; empowering women to achieve their dreams, she says she is always looking for ways to share her faith in a corporate world where it is not often encouraged.

“One thing I try to focus on is being an example through my beliefs.”

So far more than 7,000 Jewelbots have shipped to 37 countries. Its popularity and no doubt the feature on GMA, have them on backorder but they can also be purchased through Target.com.

*Source: National Girls Collaborative Project