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CultureApr 15, 2021

Virtual Community Service: Credera’s Partnership With TechGirlz

April Wanagas, JoLynn Smith, and Alaina Huslig

Many nonprofits rely on in-person volunteers, fundraising events, and personal connections to maintain their operations. With COVID-19 negatively impacting several of these areas, nonprofits have gotten creative about how they interact with their communities. 

A few ways they have adapted include:

  • Introducing new programming to meet the unique needs created by the pandemic.

  • Eliminating programming that was no longer feasible given the financial, physical, and social restrictions of the pandemic.

  • Utilizing technology to introduce new, virtual programming options.

At Credera, we actively seek out opportunities to empower the communities where our offices are located. Credera Chicago gives back to the community through nonprofits who need technology experts. The Credera Chicago team offers technical expertise and problem solvers. Given the pandemic and the negative consequences to many nonprofits, the Credera Chicago office saw the increased importance of seeking out virtual volunteer opportunities. In exploring educational-based, virtual opportunities, the Chicago office was introduced to TechGirlz

What Is TechGirlz? 

TechGirlz is a nonprofit organization that inspires middle school girls to explore the possibilities of technology to empower their future careers. TechGirlz achieves that mission by creating free, interactive “TechShopz” taught by companies, schools, and community groups to the TechGirlz participants. Over 15,000 girls in over 20 countries have participated in a TechShop. By hosting a TechShop, your company or organization can help “create a world where girls have a lifelong passion and confidence in their use of technology throughout their careers.” 

Partnering With TechGirlz

TechGirlz provides all the materials needed to facilitate a workshop through their “TechShop in a Box.” The TechShop in a Box curriculum outlines the lesson plans and provides presentation materials, activity sheets, and tips for how to best engage with the students. TechGirlz offers 50 different workshops ranging from basic to advanced difficulty levels and encourages organizers to choose topics based on both subject matter expertise as well as their passion for exploring. 

The general format for a workshop is as follows: 

  1. Virtual: Hosted over WebEx for two hours.

  2. Volunteers: Led by six volunteers with two or three co-leading the workshop material and two to three as tech support in the chat and break-out rooms.

  3. Students: 25-40 middle school girls from across North America.

Credera Chicago’s Experience 

Here’s an overview of Credera Chicago’s virtual volunteer experience with TechGirlz:

The Workshop: Modeling Complex Systems 

Credera first engaged with TechGirlz mid-pandemic while looking for an organization to partner with for virtual community service events. Beyond virtual volunteer opportunities, Credera Chicago wanted to find an organization with a Chicago presence that was aligned with Credera’s core values of people first and humility. TechGirlz embodied these values through their focus on hands-on experimentation and creating a safe space to explore for students. Their primary goal is to have the students leave workshops encouraged and curious rather than fixate on the completion of building the technology. 

Credera chose the “Modeling Complex Systems” workshop based on its real-world application to the COVID-19 pandemic. By using relatable examples, students could explore some of the terms they may be hearing on the news or ask questions about how new variables can introduce change.

The virtual coding system StarLogo Nova was used to help students create the code during the  Modeling Complex Systems workshop. In this block of code, a recovering probability was added to predict changes in recovery during the epidemic model.

Modeling Through Experimentation

Around 25 middle school students joined our lesson on modeling complex systems, all contributing to building their own model of an epidemic. After introductions and an ice breaker to help encourage participation, our team started the lesson by giving a background on complex systems. During this time the team explained where these systems could be seen in the world and what made them so difficult to understand. 

Our team outlined the concept of “agents” to introduce different points of change and then quickly transitioned to a free online block coding system to create the models. 

After our first practice coding exercise, the team introduced additional complexity by building a model of an epidemic. This model allowed the participants to hypothesize and experiment by changing the distribution rate between sick and healthy agents. By changing the inputs, the participants were able to watch how the percentage of the two populations changed over time.

Students’ Reactions to Creating Simulations

Throughout the entire lesson the input from the participants was remarkable, with many speaking up to provide input in building the experiment but also asking “what if?” and further exploring the power of modeling.

The student engagement was encouraging for the team as volunteers, because as the students completed several practice runs, their interest and engagement in coding the model really emphasized the workshop’s impact.

Our Team’s Reflection

While our volunteers are not experts in modeling, they were able to provide these young girls with a space to learn computational science through a creative and fun outlet. By volunteering to teach this lesson, the team’s goal was to create long-term interest in the students to explore STEM topics and fields they wouldn’t otherwise consider.

Overall, the experience was worthwhile and made easier thanks to the preparation, marketing, and partnership of the TechGirlz organization. This is an opportunity that any company looking to make a community impact could do on an ad-hoc basis or as a reoccurring event in a virtual, work-from-home environment.

Making an Impact Through Education

At Credera, our people have a passion for community service opportunities. We have an even stronger passion for opportunities that provide educational access to community members. Thanks to TechGirlz and the reach of the virtual workshop, Credera was able to share its passion for technology and its application to 25 girls across the U.S. and Canada. 

While the time investment is low, the impact is high for girls who may not otherwise have taken an interest in STEM topics. From start to finish, our team of six prepared roughly two hours per week for six weeks before concluding in a dry-run and the final workshop itself. According to TechGirlz, 82% of girls have a positive change of mind about a tech career after one workshop. The Credera Chicago team was grateful to be a part of this effort.

Visit TechGirlz for more information or fill out an interest form to get involved. Or if you’re interested in learning more about a career at Credera where you can connect with people who care about getting involved in the community, check out our open positions.

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