Women are underrepresented in computer science careers -- something Lena Furci and the Columbus School for Girls aim to change.
Starting in the 2018-19 school year, the Her Education Revolution Academy, which Furci leads, will be working with the all-girls private school in Bexley to develop and test a computer-science curriculum that looks to pique girls' interest early and keep them hooked.
It's not because girls lack the aptitude, Furci said. It's mainly because of perception that the field is male-dominated, and the subject isn't presented to girls in a way that will grab them.
Girls get to college already behind in learning the basic skills, said Brittany Westbrook, CSG spokeswoman. Lots of high schools, while they require sciences and math, don't offer computer science or engineering.
Only 131 schools in Ohio offered an Advanced Placement computer science course in 2016-17, according to the nonprofit Code.org, which tracks those statistics by state. About 2,200 AP exams in the subject were taken in Ohio in 2017, 24 percent of them by girls.
H.E.R. Academy will be based in the school. Right now, Furci, who spent the past decade at Battelle, is the lone employee, but she plans to build a team.
Within a year, H.E.R. plans to package the most-effective curriculum methods to sell to other schools across the country: private, public, single-gender, co-ed. The curriculum ideally will attract students who previously might not have considered learning about computer science, Furci said.
She also hopes to reach out to the community beyond the school, planning "hackathons" and events that children and their parents can attend. Educating the parents is part of the goal, she said.
"Computer science will be the literacy of the future," she said.
The way it trains a person to think can be integrated into all fields, Furci said. The lessons are actually about applying logic, how to break down a problem and how to experiment.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 18 percent of computer-science degrees conferred by U.S. colleges in 2015 went to women.
Careers in the field are lucrative: The average salary for computing occupations in Ohio is $83,959, and there are thousands of job openings.
Computer-science classes aren't new at CSG, Westbrook said, but the approach will be new.
In the class of 2018, about 61 percent of CSG graduates were going into a STEM field, compared with 13 percent of girls in coed schools nationwide, Westbrook said. She attributed that to a "culture of opportunity that is natural in an all-girl environment."
A study done by the University of California Los Angeles in 2009 showed that 47.7 percent of students attending an all-girls private school rated themselves above average in math, compared with 36.6 percent of girls at a coed private school. The same went for self-evaluating their computer ability: 35.8 percent of girls at an all-girls private school rated themselves above average as opposed to 25.9 percent in a coed school.
What H.E.R. Academy will not be doing, Furci said, is creating a "girl class" that is somehow lesser or teaches skills different from any other computer science class . Women fight hard enough to prove themselves in STEM without that stigma, she said.
"We're creating a culture change," Furci said. "We are looking at ways to teach computer science that would interest girls. They will be getting the same skill set."