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KCWiT launches program to help middle school girls explore tech

Hive KC

KANSAS CITY—As part of a continual effort to help women in tech fields, nonprofit Kansas City Women in Technology (KCWiT) created Tech sHeroes earlier this year, a program focused on educating, encouraging and empowering middle school girls to explore careers in technology.

The 12-week initiative kicked off this September for seventh- and eighth-grade girls in the Shawnee Mission School District. The group will explore all sorts of projects, from programming Sphero robot balls to prototyping mobile applications to learning HTML, CSS and Javascript. Jennifer Funk, who handles community outreach for KCWiT, co-founded the program with Robert Hoffman, director of career and technical education at Shawnee Mission School District.

“Research shows that, more than anything, meaningful connections, classes and causes influence girls’ decisions to pursue careers in technology,” Funk explained. “We both saw an opportunity to help close the gender gap in computer science and build a local pipeline of talent for Kansas City technology companies in a really intentional, thoughtful way.”

Seed funding for Tech sHeroes came from Google Fiber through the Hive KC Digital Drive Fund, a new fund launched by Mozilla’s Hive KC Learning Community and KC Digital Drive designed to support local tech-driven programs in education and workforce development. The fund serves as an administrator for area pilot projects, engaging local funders in support of tech-based education initiatives.

Both Hive KC and KC Digital Drive strive to find technology solutions and improve digital literacy in the Kansas City region.

KC Digital Drive, a nonprofit organization established in 2011 to harness the power of Google Fiber’s presence in the area, targets issues of economic development, digital inclusion, next-generation applications and smart city leadership for Kansas City citizens.

Hive KC, part of Mozilla’s constellation of learning networks across the nation, is a member-based group that collaborates across schools and nonprofits to support digital learning experiences in the Kansas City metro area. These experiences are funded through the Gigabit Community Fund, a National Science Foundation-supported initiative that offers innovation funding for gigabit-enabled applications and brings web exploration to informal spaces such as libraries and classrooms.

Nine Kansas City projects have already benefited from $150,000 in innovation funding granted to the Gigabit Community Fund, but a gap in financial support seemed to exist for certain projects or organizations working to promote youth learning through digital technology—hence the new Digital Drive Fund.

“Lots of interesting projects with great potential were dying on the vine, so we brought it down to local markets and challenged them to innovate,” said Kari Keefe, community catalyst at Mozilla’s Gigabit Community Fund. “Innovation funding really allows for more organizations to work together, which means an increased ability to make more of an impact.”

“As we see more pilots around digital innovation, we want to use the fiber network and talk with government, health care and education folks to find ways to bring the pilots into the network, as well as fund and scale them,” said Aaron Deacon, managing director of KC Digital Drive.

The Hive KC Digital Drive Fund continues to look for contributors and partners interested in helping, and projects in the K-12 educational sphere still in need of funding to launch and grow.