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Kindra Locklear was tuned in to CNN one day last fall when she came across a segment about a nonprofit organization that aims to close the gender gap in technology by teaching young girls to code.

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It struck a chord. Locklear works in the information technology department at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and sees first-hand how women are underrepresented in the field.

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An effort to bring more females into the field, she thought, might do her own community some good. UNC Pembroke, located in a small, rural town in south-central North Carolina, was founded as a school for American Indians, and today still serves and employs many members of the Lumbee Tribe, of which Locklear is a member. As a Lumbee woman, and a woman in tech living in a rural area, Locklear kept thinking about the nonprofit she saw on TV— Girls Who Code —and wondering if she could establish a chapter in Pembroke.

Through summer immersion camps and clubs like the one Locklear helped establish in Pembroke earlier this year, the organization has helped more thangirls learn to code since its founding in In January, Locklear contacted the director of the local Boys and Girls Club about her idea: What if they teamed up to help their middle school girls learn to code?

A few s and meetings later, a plan was in motion.

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The Boys and Girls Club would help recruit students for the program and would shuttle the girls to the UNC Pembroke campus, just a few minutes down the road, for weekly coding lessons. But out of about 20 seventh and eighth grade girls, 15 ed up and stuck with it, says Chelse Hunt, the youth coordinator at the Lumbee Tribe Boys and Girls Club in Pembroke. What are we going to do? The week program started in February. Using lesson plans and curriculum from Girls Who Code, Kindra, Mary Beth and other university volunteers taught the girls—all of whom are members of the Lumbee Tribe—how to code using Scratch.

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They also sought to foster skills like creativity, innovation and sisterhood, Kindra says. Some weeks of the program featured guest speakers, including women from the technology company Cisco, who discussed their own entry into the field. We wanted that aspect to be in tact. Though the college is not far from where the girls live, most of them had never visited campus before ing the Girls Who Code club, Kindra says.

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As the weeks passed, the girls had to begin thinking about their impact projectwhich is the final component of all Girls Who Code clubs and asks the girls to use their newly honed computer science skills to solve a real-world problem. As they brainstormed about their own impact project, the Lumbee girls kept coming back to themes of bullying, depression and suicide within their tribal community.

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With the help of a campus counselor who came in one week to talk with the girls about mental health and suggest ways they could focus their topic, the girls decided to build a website that aggregates mental health resources for their community. The 15 of them divided into five groups to explore different facets of mental health on their own microsites: cultural identity, cyberbullying, anger, suicide and anxiety. The fact that the girls chose that was really inspiring to me.

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Mary Beth says she felt like their final project—both the topic they chose and the way it turned out—was further evidence that starting a Girls Who Code club in their community was the right thing to do. Why else did they choose mental health? It was a no-brainer.

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We had to take this on. The program wrapped up in late April, but both Mary Beth and Kindra hope that the inaugural class was just the beginning.

For these native american girls, coding became the language to discuss mental health

In the next iteration, the women hope that the pilot class of girls might return to go deeper into their computer science education and to impart some of their knowledge on the new members who up. In the meantime, they used funds from a small Girls Who Code grant to purchase a robot for the girls to keep at the Boys and Girls Club.

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