How Girls Who Code is raising a generation of problem solvers

Two Women standing at a podium

Setting foot in a classroom to teach computer science to 20 teenage girls put Girls Who Code volunteer Hanna Pedersen on a path to self-discovery and a career at Bank of America.

Each summer, in multiple cities nationwide, Bank of America partners with Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that inspires and equips girls with vital computing skills for the 21st century. These young female students receive hands-on experience in computer science along with mentoring and career advice. Hanna Pedersen served as a teacher at one of the Summer Immersion Programs in Charlotte in 2018, and today works as Compliance and Operational Risk specialist. She recently talked about what her experience with Girls Who Code has meant for her, personally and professionally.

How did you first learn about Girls Who Code?

HP: In the summer following my senior year at the University of Alaska Anchorage, I hoped to find an internship where I could put to work what I’d learned in the classroom. Going into my freshman year, I had originally declared my major in psychology. But my courses weren’t engaging me and something was drawing me to tech. With nearly zero prior experience, I enrolled in an “Introduction to Java” class and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to pursue a future in the STEM fields. I saw that Girls Who Code was hiring teachers for its Summer Immersion Program, so I applied, and that decision was truly life changing.

Tell us about your experience, and how you got involved with Bank of America.

HP: In June 2018, I was given the opportunity to teach in the Girls Who Code program at Bank of America in Charlotte. I was incredibly nervous on the first day. I had never taught before, and wanted to be sure I was giving these 20 young women the most rewarding experience possible. My mom has been in education my entire life – she was a teacher, then a principal and now works for the school district – so I tried to channel her calming energy to get through that first week.

The company served as the host organization for my class, and my students met with and learned from many Bank of America employees. By the end of the seven weeks, I was incredibly proud of our students. Each one of them had to overcome a lot of hardship, but their dedication and determination was steadfast. During graduation, when they had to walk on stage and give a presentation of their two-week project, the pride I felt was indescribable.

What did Girls Who Code teach you about yourself?

HP: I learned that I’m far more capable than I thought I was. Teaching was the hardest thing I’ve ever done and that will remain true no matter where my career takes me. I was surprised by how rewarding the entire experience was. Teenage girls aren’t always quick to take to someone new, but I made it my mission to connect with each and every one of them.

I also learned that I have a knack for creative problem solving. Simply by the nature of our classroom makeup, I was making a lot of decisions with little guidance. Being an independent thinker who can find a solution and follow through is a skill I can use every day.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

HP: I don’t know if five years is totally realistic, but if I could extend this question to 10 or 15 years out, I would love to be in a leadership position and motivate other young women. That summer, I was lucky enough to meet some amazing women at Bank of America, including Chief Operations & Technology Officer Cathy Bessant. She spoke to our Charlotte classroom, and was so inspiring and passionate about her work. I want to inspire a room of young girls like that one day.

What do you hope for the young women who go through the Girls Who Code program?

HP: When I started at Bank of America, I remember being surprised by how many smart, talented women I was surrounded by every day. It’s one of the things I love most about working here. All jobs – especially those in STEM fields – should have that same representation. I want the next generation of young women in tech to have that same feeling of, ‘Wow, I feel represented and validated. I feel like I can speak freely, and not feel lesser than because I’m a woman.’

Originally published 7/19/2019