Vox Product recently hosted a group of four teenage girls from Algeria, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco for a day of job shadowing and workshops. They are part of an initiative called TechGirls – an international exchange program led by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs designed to empower young girls from the Middle East and North Africa to pursue careers in science and technology. The girls ranged from 15 to 17 years old and are selected by an application process to travel to DC for three weeks and participate in a variety of activities including a skills camp, office tours, shadowing professionals, and living with a host family.
For the first part of their visit the group shadowed front-end engineer Ally Palanzi, design director Alisha Ramos, support manager Krissy Kingwood, and QA manager Nancy Seay. Each of them spent time going over their roles, what projects they currently work on, and then fielded the many questions the girls had from how they started their careers to what office life is like.
Afterwards Ramla Mahmood and Ashley Twaddell led a workshop about how they can help encourage teens in their area to get involved in tech at an early age. The workshop started with a conversation about what challenges they currently faced back home. Some of the issues that came up involved a lack of resources when it comes to equipment and course offerings. When related classes are available they are more geared towards college aged students and not to middle and high school age which is when they are in the best position to gain interest. When it comes to societal pressures, medical and engineering professions in the region are valued as more prestigious careers over other tech paths such as design and development.
This led to a great brainstorm on actionable steps they can pursue to help combat these issues. Since the main interest was to make STEM paths more inviting and interesting to students their age, a lot of the ideas revolved around clubs and mentorships that they could start themselves within their schools and communities. Some of the other ideas included creating a monitored Facebook group where they could interact with their peers and post helpful links as well as creating quick and easy coding tutorial videos.
Part of the TechGirls program is to take what they learned during their trip and apply it to a project in their respective countries. Lina Tarawneh from Jordan carries an interest in business and spoke about how she would like to hold an art gallery for unrepresented and unconventional artists. “I know this girl who makes human portraits using her laptop and it took my breath away,” said Tarawneh. She hopes to use her efforts to connect local artists with businesses and raise enough money to teach art for those who can’t afford it.
Chaimae Ouardani from Morocco wants to organize a TEDx in her country that focuses on women empowerment and encouraging STEM careers. She also plans to create an IT club at her school. “I want to ignite interest in technology and share with them all my skills I learned in the U.S.” said Ouardani.
Girls like Chaimae and Lina are just a few of the tremendous group of talent TechGirls fosters. With their immense passion to learn and involvement in tech programs at an early age they are learning to become leaders in their area that can inspire and initiate impactful change. This was Vox Product’s first time hosting and and we look forward to the projects and communities they will create and embrace.