Annual SheTech Explorer Day Allows Girls to See Themselves in Tech

Orem—”The way you get inspired isn’t by looking. It’s by doing.”

Those are the words of Cydni Tetro, president of the Women Tech Council, during the organization’s fourth annual SheTech Explorer Day, held at Utah Valley University. SheTech Explorer Day takes Tetro’s words and brings them to life. 1,200 Utah high school girls spent part of their Friday packed into a loud room filled with nearly 40 company booths, all vying to engage their attention and inspire their creativity.

“You don’t get to have a booth here unless there’s something the girls can do,” said Tetro.

The participating companies seemed to have taken the requirement as a challenge. Girls, their hair standing on end, shocked each other to diffuse static electricity while learning from IM Flash. Lucid Software took an opportunity to teach girls about critical step-by-step logic in coding by asking teams of girls to quickly write out the steps to making a peanut butter sandwich, and then acting on their steps exactly. Adobe showcased mBots coded with MIT Scratch. Fog cannons, instant snow, elephant toothpaste, robot arms—all had a place within the crowded booths, aiming to not only teach, but engage the participants.

“We’ve been a sponsor of SheTech since the beginning. We love the fact that they focus on the biggest demographic that’s missing in STEM fields and industry,” said Todd Russell, academic relations and intern program manager for IM Flash. “Our first year, it felt like a bunch of companies having career fair booths. Not very interactive—more informative, and that’s it. But it has progressed over the years into something fantastic. The kids get to have a hands-on experience and discover for themselves that science is cool and fun.”

In the afternoon, after the girls get a few hours to explore all the booths, the girls are split into groups and issued a tech challenge. Each group is assigned an industry mentor—someone who works in technology, who can speak to the experience and help guide their group through the challenge—and are given a problem to solve. Each group has a specified amount of time to work together, raise ideas and debate, and ultimately create a possible solution to the challenge offered. The mentors judge the ideas, and winning groups receive prizes.

“The girls go through brainstorming and ideation, vetting the ideas, and thinking about which one is going to work, building a pitch and competing for prizes,” says Tetro. “It’s also teaching… What are some other work-based learning skills [they need] so that they’re really successful in whatever they want? A lot of this really comes down to that. How do I get thrown into a team, solve a problem, and actually present a viable solution?”

Tetro says that SheTech Explorer Day is about igniting a spark—but the Women Tech Council doesn’t intend to let girls file out of Utah Valley University without any further guidance about how to engage with STEM or pursue a tech career. SheTech provides more resources after Explorer Day, helping participants find courses that match their interest, gain internships, learn about scholarships and access mentors.

“[SheTech] is, how do we inspire, engage and activate girls into STEM careers?” says Tetro. “Explorer Day is the first step of that… We don’t need to invent all the resources, but we can be a conduit to say: ‘Here’s what you need. Here’s the pathways you can go through.'”

For participating companies like Adobe, SheTech is an exciting event—it allows the company to engage with girls who may not know that a technology career doesn’t have to mean a computer science degree or a particular passion for coding.

“Bringing that message is really important. You can be super interested in STEM and STEAM and do all of those great things, but you don’t necessarily have to code to do that,” said Ambria Johnson, program manager and action team lead for corporate responsibility in Lehi for Adobe. “STEM is an option for everyone. Look at Adobe. We have a lot of things that appeal to those who are interested in arts.”

The ability to reach those students who didn’t even recognize technology careers as an option is one of the best parts of SheTech, says Tetro. And, by the end of the year, the program will have reached more than 10,000 high school girls.

“Those jobs are interesting because, for young women going in, they’re higher-paying jobs. They provide them opportunities that, whatever life throws at them, whatever they want to accomplish—they can have even more opportunity that they could without tech,” she said. “Technology is everywhere. Whatever industry they care about, technology drives that.”