The Girls Who Code summer program at Morgan Stanley introduces high school students to the joys of engineering and computer science.
It was "dancing robots day" at the Girls Who Code summer immersion program at Morgan Stanley's headquarters in Times Square, and each team was working intensely to write computer code to put a small two-wheeled robot through its proper paces: move forward, pause, spin in a circle.
"I really didn't know anything about coding before I came here," said Karla A., a 16-year-old from the Bronx who had helped decorate her team's robot with a green paper fringe. "My mom was like, 'This is a good skill set to have.' It's definitely cooler than I thought it would be."
This is the first time that Morgan Stanley has hosted the program, which is being held over seven weeks in July and August. The firm has donated office space, equipment and—above all—its women technologists and engineers, who are serving as one-on-one mentors to the 21 high school girls in the program and giving guest lectures about their career paths.
The goal is to help educate the next generation of future scientists and engineers, as well as to close the gender gap in technology. These goals overlap with the mission of Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit organization that aims to achieve gender parity in computer science by 2027.
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"Our technologists are incredibly passionate about giving back, which is also one of the firm's key values," said Corinne Parker, Executive Director in Enterprise Technology & Risk, who helped spearhead the initiative through the firm's Women in Technology networking group.
She added, "Shaping the next generation of women tech professionals is something that's not only rewarding, but clearly essential in this day and age. This is why both our male and female technologists have been both eager and proud to participate in this initiative."
In addition to robotics, the girls are learning Python, Java Script, HTML and website design. The class's three teachers come from Girls Who Code, but their lessons are complemented by speakers from Morgan Stanley, whose stories the girls have found inspiring.
They heard, for example, from Louella San Juan, a Managing Director in Institutional Securities Technology, who majored in English in college and began her career in publishing before earning a master's degree in computer science and pivoting to a flourishing career in technology.
Other speakers have talked about the innovative technologies they are working on, from artificial intelligence and machine learning to data analytics and cybersecurity.
"This has definitely been very eye-opening in terms of where computer science can take you in your career," said Brianna V., a 16-year-old from Westfield, N.J. "We've had a lot of inspiring speakers who are women, who have talked to us about careers in technology. I think it's definitely going to be an option for me."
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Darby P., a rising senior who lives in West Hempstead, N.Y., agreed, saying that the personal stories from Morgan Stanley executives—including her mentor, with whom she spends at least an hour a week—have been particularly resonant. "The speakers have been great," she said. "My older sister did Girls Who Code, so I kind of followed her path here, but experiencing it myself has just opened my eyes to how many opportunities there are for women in technology."
The course begins with the fundamentals of computer science and proceeds to make the girls familiar with all the disciplines they would need to work with both the front and back ends of a website, said Ilmira Estil, the head teacher. Then there is the unit on robotics, during which she led the girls through the coding and hardware essentials they would need to make their robots move and play music.
"Who can tell me what a circuit is?" Estil asked the class. A circuit, she explained, is a path around which electricity can flow. The girls followed the lesson—which leans heavily on the lingo and technical terms used by professionals—on their laptops and on an overhead screen.
"It's really cool to be here at Morgan Stanley," said Unice C., a 17-year-old from Merrick, N.Y., who was wearing light blue nail polish and working on a "Star Wars" themed robot. "It's my first time in a corporate environment."
Posters in the classroom motivate the girls to collaborate, speak up ("Don't be passive!") and remind them of the building blocks of computer science: variables, loops, conditionals and Boolean operations.
Kanyce P., a 16-year-old from the Bronx, was part of a four-girl team that worked on the PrideBot, a rainbow-themed robot that played the theme song from "The Legend of Zelda" video game while it spun in circles. "I didn't really think I was going to like robotics, but I was the first one to figure out how to make our robot move," she said.
Robert Rooney, the firm's Head of Technology, visited the class just in time to see the robots dancing. "It's vital to support young women as they pursue studies and careers in computer science and engineering," he said. "They are our workforce of the future."
While checking out the machines the girls were building, he peppered them with questions: Were you coding before you got here? Are you enjoying it? What language are you coding in?
Much to his delight, Vivian F., a 16-year-old from Queens, when asked which career path she was considering, told him she wanted to go into finance.
"You're in the right place," he responded. "That's what we do."