The Brave Initiatives instructors include, from left, Andrea Thomeri, volunteer and assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information; Melinda Kothbauer, volunteer and computer engineering student at the University of Michigan; and Robin Brewer, the head of Brave Detroit and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information.

The Brave Initiatives instructors include, from left, Andrea Thomeri, volunteer and assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information; Melinda Kothbauer, volunteer and computer engineering student at the University of Michigan; and Robin Brewer, the head of Brave Detroit and an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Nonprofit offers free coding workshops for teen girls

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published May 15, 2018

DETROIT — Ensuring that students are prepared for the future is a constantly evolving challenge. The nonprofit organization Brave Initiatives is taking on that challenge by offering free coding classes for young women.

These coding lessons are taught through workshops geared toward girls where they learn skills related to computer science and design thinking. They typically structure such classes in either one-day workshops or five-day camps.

“Our girls learn coding, design thinking, leadership and public speaking in a diverse community of supportive mentors and peers,” said Robin Brewer, one of the class instructors. “We make a deliberate effort to recruit participants from the many underserved communities. ... As a result, our students benefit from a diversity of experiences and perspectives.” 

The coding classes are part of Brave Initiatives’ larger mission of providing both more opportunities for young people, but also growing their social awareness and public engagement.

“Brave Initiatives is a nonprofit that teaches high school girls to view themselves as agents of change,” said Brewer. “Our mission is to create social impact through design thinking and tech empowerment. We encourage our young women to see themselves as capable coders and tune them into community issues that they might normally ignore or accept as status quo.” 

Among the founders of the program is Jen Kamins, who, along with Emily Harburg and Anna Bethune, started Brave Initiatives in 2015 in Chicago. Kamins has worked in talent acquisition for several tech companies and has been a mentor for young women.

“We really saw, not only the gender gap, caused not just by lack of opportunities, but lack of empowerment,” said Kamins. “The curriculum is typically written for boys. We wanted to provide a safe learning environment geared to girls. We want them to work on things they care about and that technology is something they care about. We promote awareness in coding.”

Kamins now focuses on business development for Brave Initiatives programs and said that having more people who know how to code is not only good for those learning, but also for the communities they will eventually impact.

“It’s so important, as we look at the future, that we’re increasing the number of people who know how to code,” she said. “We want girls mindful of their code and how technology impacts groups as a whole. If we’re not cognizant of the technology we build, it can be detrimental to communities. We’re teaching them to be social leaders in the technology space.”

The next girls coding program will be a one-day workshop at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 19, called “Think Like a Computer: An Intro to Coding with Python.” It will take place at Hamtramck High School, 11410 Charest St. Another workshop will take place on Saturday, June 30, called “Make Your Own YouTube Video.”

“High school girls in grades nine to 12 are eligible to participate. No prior design or computer science experience is necessary, just an interest and curiosity and learning something new or strengthening a skill,” said Brewer. “Girls can sign up on our website: bit.ly/bravedetroit. We provide programs at no cost with the discount code ‘bravegirl2018.’”

More information on Brave Initiatives’ Detroit-area programs can be found on the organization’s website.

Brewer said Brave Initiatives wanted to focus on ensuring girls had more access to coding classes because girls are often not given as many opportunities to learn this skill set, and this can prevent later exploration of computer-related learning.

“While it may seem a bit one-sided to target coding programs to girls, research has shown that parents tend to register their sons for coding programs and daughters for design programs, meaning girls are significantly underexposed,” she said. “This leads to these cases where girls starting computer science programs are significantly behind their male peers, who have been coding since they were 7-8 years old. We aren’t saying that everyone needs to become a coder or computer science major, but we do want to make sure girls are equally exposed.”

Brave Initiatives has reported positive feedback from its coding programs and said that it has seen tangible signs of improvement in the lives of girls who have taken part in the programs.

“We have seen many positive results,” said Brewer. “Girls from the Chicago camps are returning each summer, continuing the websites and apps they built throughout the year. Some of the girls from previous summers come back as mentors. Others are starting college and majoring in computer science. Parents have described the change they see in their daughters, some of whom were completely disinterested in coding prior to participating in Brave.” 

They want students in Detroit to be able to take part in the current upswing in jobs and business growth taking place in the city.

“Specific to Detroit, we see evidence of how technology and applications of coding can be used to strengthen, change and improve communities,” Brewer said. “Detroit is in a growth phase, and we want girls to know they have the power to be a part of that growth and change.”