UHCL coding academy empowers girls in STEM, fulfills Texas workforce goal

August 15, 2019 | UHCL Staff

Commissioner visits UHCL, observes grant funding in action

From left, front: Director of Center for Educational Programs Tonya Jeffery, Texas Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez III, Associate Vice President for Strategic Information, Initiatives and Technology Evelyn Miralles. Back row: Brandon Denton, Alfredo Dominguez

For 25 Houston-area middle school girls thinking about a career in a STEM-related field, the Soaring Hawks Girls Code Academy at University of Houston-Clear Lake was an eye-opening week of designing, creating and digitally innovating. For Texas Commissioner Representing Labor Julian Alvarez III, it was a chance to see the Texas Workforce Commission grant that provided them the scholarship to attend the academy in full action.

“Back in 2016, the Texas Workforce Commission traveled around Texas eliciting stakeholders and looking for ways to put people to work and train for a credential,” Alvarez said. “One of the things brought to our attention was the need to help young ladies find STEM-related career paths. We certainly saw that need begin to be fulfilled at this academy.”

With that priority, the Texas Workforce Commission offered grant funding for coding camps for middle school girls. “We had 49 requests for funding and we awarded eight or nine entities with the funds, including UH-Clear Lake,” Alvarez said. “This is the third year the grant has been implemented, and the purpose of my visit here, along with (Lead for America Fellow with the City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Education) Alfredo Dominguez, (Associate Director of Education, City of Houston Mayor’s Office of Education) Brandon Denton, (Chief of Staff, Texas Workforce Commission) Jeanette Dela Cruz and (Manager of the Office of Employer Initiatives, Texas Workforce Commission) Emily Clodfelter was to see these young girls take full advantage of the opportunity to experience STEM, many for the first time.”

Alvarez said the code academy for girls was part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative to assess local economic activity, examine workforce challenges and opportunities, and consider innovative approaches to meeting the state’s workforce goals. “This academy met more than the TWC needs,” he said. “It meets Texas’ needs and fulfills one of the initiatives established in the Tri-Agency — to get more individuals involved in STEM-related occupations, especially those who live in rural communities. We love the creative way UHCL has been implementing these programs.”

The results of the academy, Alvarez said, are more than impressive. “Some of these girls are now saying they want to go into programming careers,” he said. “Some people say they didn’t know girls could do this work, and that’s what makes all of this worthwhile.”

UHCL’s Center for Educational Programs Director Tonya Jeffery said that the university was thrilled to have been awarded the TWC-funded grant for the Soaring Hawks Girls Code Academy. “Summer camps like this academy are addressing the disproportionate number of females in STEM and the computer science industry,” she said. “This provides middle school girls with the basic computer science literacy skills that are fundamental to a well-rounded education and essential for being prepared for our highly competitive workforce.”

“We will be sharing this story around the state,” Alvarez said. “Others should be taking advantage of these opportunities as well.”

Find out more about UHCL’s Center for Educational Programs summer camps and the Soaring Hawks Girls Code Academy online.

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