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Park City High School students plan all-female hack-a-thon

Park City High School students in the Girls in Tech Club have been planning the school's first all-female hack-a-thon since November. The event is set to take place on April 27.
Courtesy of Sela Serafin

While searching for a female-only hack-a-thon to sign up for, Sela Serafin and Claire Oberg discovered that there were none available in Utah for high school students. So, they decided to create one themselves.

Serafin and Oberg, along with the rest of the Girls in Tech Club at Park City High School, plan to host the school’s first female-only hack-a-thon, which is a contest to complete a given task using computer programming. The event is set to take place at the high school on April 27, and the club is currently raising funds for the event.

All female students from grades nine through 12 in the state are invited to participate.

The 12-hour event is set to start at 9 a.m. with keynote speakers and workshops. Serafin said women from different tech industries, including the research software company Qualtrics, are set to speak and serve as mentors for the participants. After the workshops, participants will be tasked with completing the challenge. Awards will be given to the overall winner, as well as winners in separate categories, at the close of the event at 9 p.m.

Serafin and Oberg wanted to start the hack-a-thon for the same reason they founded the Girls in Tech Club last year. They want to tackle the gender gap in the technology industry by encouraging more girls to get involved in technology at a younger age.

“Sparking that interest when you are in high school can definitely carry on into picking your major and other things you want to do in college,” Serafin said.

The high school seniors noticed a disparity in their own school, too. They took the school’s advanced placement computer science principles class, and said they were two of four total girls in the class.

When they formed the club in the middle of last school year, club leaders followed curriculum from Girls Who Code, the national nonprofit that aims to increase female participation in technology. They practiced programming skills until November, when Oberg and Serafin suggested that the club put on the hack-a-thon.

The 20 student members went into event planning mode. They made a website for the event, created promotional materials, found sponsors and ironed out the rest of the details.

“The coding lessons were really beneficial, but we felt like (the members) would get more out of it if they saw how making a website and finding sponsors, how that all can actually play into reaching an end goal and putting on an event,” Serafin said.

She said the members have learned important, transferable skills for future jobs.

The girls wanted to make the hack-a-thon free to attend, so they have been raising money from sponsors and other fundraising events throughout the school year. The cost to put on the event is expected to be between $4,000 and $5,000, and the Girls in Tech Club is still collecting funds through a Go Fund Me campaign.

Students who participate are expected to bring their own laptops, but Oberg and Serafin said they will also provide computers if a student does not have access to one. They said they want to make it accessible. Girls of all ability levels are invited to attend, including those who have never coded before. Attendees will learn from workshops before the hack-a-thon starts.

Even though the hack-a-thon is a contest, Oberg said she wants it to be a community-building event for young girls. She hopes girls can learn from each other and build on their tech skills and confidence. The seniors, who graduate in a few months, also want to see the club and hack-a-thon continue for years to come.

Ultimately, Oberg and Serafin want to contribute to the push for more women in the tech field. They are eager to see if their efforts make a difference.

“By bringing all the girls into it, we are bringing our voice into the technologies that will be shaping our lives instead of just having men do it,” Serafin said. “No matter what you go into, tech is always going to be involved with it.”


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