July 2018 News & Updates

It’s summer in Vermont! The outdoors beckons us to hike, swim, and garden (to name just a few), and for some of our youth, it means summer camp season. But for many Vermonters, camp is not an option. That’s where the Vermont Women’s Fund steps in.

As part of our overall strategy, we look for programs that offer young women and girls the chance to explore new opportunities and expand their horizons. Summer camps are especially impactful as they offer full-immersion experiences. In this newsletter, there are two excellent examples: the Governor’s Institute of Vermont’s (GIV) and Coder Camp for Girls at Vermont Technical College , both of which received grants from the Vermont Women’s Fund in 2018.

I had the opportunity to talk with some of the girls in these programs and not only did I learn a lot about engineering and coding, it was incredibly inspiring! If you get tired and overwrought listening to the nightly news, I suggest you turn off the TV or radio and go talk to some of the teenage girls in these programs! I’m sure you’ll feel the same lift in happiness that I did.

Equally motivating was a recent conversation I had with Dealer.com’s Denise Leopoldino. Dealer takes a very hands-on approach to getting girls into the technology pipeline by bringing them inside the doors of their Burlington headquarters to see what it’s really like to apply technology skills in the workplace. It’s a testament to their commitment to community and culture, as well as to fostering women leaders.

While Women’s Fund grantmaking specifically addresses the needs and challenges that face low-income and at-risk women and girls, we also collaborate with the Vermont Community Foundation on its work to close the opportunity gap in Vermont. This philanthropic sync-up—including the McClure Foundation , the Permanent Fund , and other supporting organizations of the Foundation—makes for a powerful force for Vermont. Together, we are working towards a common goal!    


P.S. Please don’t forget the October 30 date for the Women’s Fund annual benefit featuring Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code . Stay tuned for more announcements about that in the near future. Meanwhile, enjoy these fleeting days of summer in Vermont!
Power of Positivity – Governor’s Institute of Vermont 
We all know the contagious effects of spending time with a positive person this influence is supported by neuroscience. However, what caught my eye recently was additional research that concluded that a shared positive experience results in even higher levels of happiness than from simply talking about a pleasant experience. 

I enjoyed this extra spike of endorphins after a recent visit to the Governor’s Institute of Vermont ’s (GIV) engineering program held at Norwich University earlier this month. The Vermont Women’s Fund gave $10,000 this year in scholarship support to help girls find pathways to viable careers.

I had the pleasure of meeting just a few of the high school students who apply from all over the state for an immersion experience in the field of their choice at a college campus for a week. Two of the young women I spoke to floored me with their self-awareness, their interest in learning, and their willingness to take a risk.

Raven, a junior from Manchester, Vermont, describes herself as an "artist with an interest in medicine." She said, “I learned so much in the first few hours! I never realized how much engineering really relates to both.” Lia, a junior from Barre, was already sold on engineering, “It’s a way of solving problems and that really appeals to me.”

Classrooms and labs are devoted to different strands of study within the engineering program. I visited four of them during the afternoon and had a chance to talk to some of the students as they worked. The “Sensors” strand (which happened to be all female) covered basic coding through the use of sensors measuring temperature. When I asked one high schooler why she chose to work on sensors, she explained, “I skied in high school and I spent a lot of time in a van driving at odd hours. There was always some random stoplight that would turn red at 3 a.m. for no reason. We would sit there and our coach wouldn’t run it but it made no sense. I want to find a way to fix that.”

That afternoon of sharing with those girls upped my happiness meter considerably. 

There is much more to GIV than I can describe here. Please visit their website to learn more. Many thanks to the GIV students, Norwich University, the Engineering Department, and all those involved on staff at GIV who contribute so much to our Vermont students.  
Dealer.com: Teaching Girls to Drive
Director of Workforce Vitality Denise Leopoldino met with me recently to talk about Dealer.com and its commitment to the Vermont Women’s Fund, and in particular, getting girls into the tech pipeline. Once a local start-up, Dealer.com designs digital marketing platforms for auto retailers. After explosive success, they were eventually acquired by Cox Automotive, a global leader in the industry.

Leopoldino proudly shows me the company’s 2018 corporate responsibility report where support for the Vermont Women’s Fund as well as Change The Story is a core component of connecting community to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math). “We pride ourselves on striving to be innovative leaders and women are critical to that goal. We want girls to see technology as an option for them and as a way to stay in Vermont.” She added, “just because it’s automotive and tech doesn’t mean it’s not an option for girls.”

Dealer cares about people, the community, and the place where its employees live. And these values are not limited to 1,200+ people that work here in Vermont. Its parent company, Cox Automotive, is a fourth-generation family corporation and promoted volunteerism and community outreach dating back to the early 1900’s, long before it was the right thing to do and called social responsibility.

Steering girls into the tech pipeline and fostering women’s leadership happens regularly at the Burlington headquarters. Just the week before, I had heard that the girls involved in the GIV’s Entrepreneurship program spent a morning at Dealer, touring the building and taking part in a panel discussion led by women employees of the company. Similarly, the Coder Camp for Girls (a program funded by the Women’s Fund) had just returned from a morning at Dealer.

“We like students to see firsthand what a job in tech is like,” Leopoldino said. “We also host a job shadowing program where girls sit alongside team members at Dealer and learn what coding, design, and customer service is all about in the real world. This is a win for us as well. We work in a collaborative environment and our employees love to be involved in these efforts. And that includes executive leadership.”

At the beginning of 2018, Dealer signed on at the top level of sponsorship to the Vermont Women’s Fund’s efforts to bring Jodi Kantor to Vermont in February and for our upcoming October 2018 event. “The work you are doing with your grantmaking and with Change The Story is the big picture change that needs to happen in Vermont,” Leopoldino said as she drew a large circle in the air. “You are helping to make big change out there—change that will affect companies like ours in very positive ways. Creating jobs, recruiting families, it’s all about connecting the dots to make that happen.”
Coding and Corn Mazes
There’s a lot of talk about getting girls into digital technology, particularly in coding, but I must confess that until I visited the Coder Camp for Girls at Vermont Technical College (VTC), I didn’t fully understand what coding really meant.

As was described to me, coding is a language. It’s the mother tongue of programming, and it all made sense when I watched the girls in action using a computer language called “Scratch” that was designed at MIT specifically to teach the fundamentals of coding.

The Women’s Fund is a major supporter of the Coder Camp for Girls as of 2017. Thanks to your support, our grant covers the cost of two faculty members and three student counselors that work for the week at the Williston campus of VTC. In addition, our funding helps supplement the sliding scale admission for the girls.

On the day I visited, I found about a dozen or more girls stationed at individual computers with screens lit up with what looked like different games. “Is this gaming?” I warily asked aloud to one of the students. “No,” she replied and pointed to a binder with instructions she had on her lap. “We are figuring out how some of the games were created,” she said, “and others are making up their own games, which is the really cool part.” Clearly the objective was to start creating your own games as soon as you could.

Leslie Damon, a faculty member of VTC in the Computer Information Systems department, was there to guide the students and this tech-deficient visitor. She explained to me that coding uses algorithmic thinking that builds on itself. She shared this tangible example. “Let’s say you are going through a corn maze. If you always keep one hand on a wall, you will eventually find your way out. In coding, the term ‘wall following’ is used for code that pulls from the environment. In this case, the position of the wall and where you are in relation to that wall.” A little light went off in my head thanks to her example and as I watched one of the girls create a maze onscreen.

When I asked Jolene, a rising junior at Williamstown High School, if coding was new to her, she shook her head. “I started coding in 8 th grade and have been doing it ever since. I’ve always really liked it,” she said with a smile.

Two days later, I attended the graduation ceremony for the girls, complete with parents and grandparents. A majority of the girls were 7 th and 8 th graders, which Camp Director Laurel Butler explained to me as the best fit. “We started with high school girls only but quickly opened it up to middle schoolers as they really respond to this camp at their age,” she said. The success of the experience was evident at the graduation ceremony where the girls gave a demonstration of the games they created and described the challenges they had in designing and devising them.

Another sign of success is this year’s new Advanced Coding Camp that starts up at the Williston campus in late July. Many thanks to Laurel Butler and the dedicated VTC staff who make this camp a memorable experience for all its participants. And I must admit—I will never look at a corn maze quite the same way again!
Vermont Works for Women: WOMEN CAN DO!
Vermont Works for Women will host its 20th annual Women Can Do (WCD) exposition at Vermont Technical College in Randolph on October 11, 2018. This energizing one-day career immersion experience is designed to introduce high-school girls from across the state to a breadth of career possibilities. It features dozens of hands-on workshops and action stations highlighting opportunities in the skilled trades, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and non-traditional fields for women. At WCD girls may operate an excavator, weld, climb a fire ladder, build a robot, design a 3D model, create an online game, wield a chainsaw, extract DNA from cells, or change a tire. Our 20th Anniversary of WCD will be a day to remember.

Find out how you can help make it the biggest year yet by supporting this wonderful event. Contact Alison at alamagna@vtworksforwomen.org for more information. Registration for schools opens September 1, 2018.

P.S. There is still time to be a sponsor of Women Can Do as well!
Vermont Commission on Women: Shhhh, We're Listening
What’s working well – and not working so well – for the women in your community?
What are the most important issues facing women in Vermont, according to your own experience or from what you can see?
Help Vermont Commission on Women (VCW) gather this information by taking a short survey (5-10 minutes max), and share the survey link with your networks. Your answers to the survey are completely anonymous and confidential, and VCW welcomes responses from anyone (not just women). Thanks for helping to inform VCW’s future work.

Thank you to our sponsors of this newsletter and our upcoming annual event
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