Sydney Gibbard and Mina Shokoufandeh were exposed to STEM early on through engineering and science camps. Their love of science, technology and math was perhaps inherited from their mothers — the director of the applied science program at The Pennington School and a family practice doctor, respectively.
“We knew that was not the case for a lot of young girls in our area,” said Shokoufandeh, of New Hope. “We originally were driven by the idea that we had access to a lot of these things.”
Expanding access to STEM for underprivileged girls ages 8-12 was the driving force for creating Girls Code the World, a nonprofit organization the duo founded while high school juniors at The Pennington School in New Jersey.
In the nearly four years since starting the organization, Shokoufandeh, a Tufts University biology and biomedical sciences student, and Gibbard, of Yardley, a Penn State Schreyer Honors College biomedical engineering and pre-med student, have received grants and collaborated with organizations to provide programming for nearly 100 girls in Bucks and Mercer counties. Programming includes hands-on projects, laptop-based activities and lessons featuring 3D printing, a water filtration system, and building a dancing project using drag and drop block-based coding.
In an effort to take the organization to the next level, the co-founders began meeting with SCORE Bucks County mentors Linda Zangrilli and Joseph Lutes in summer 2020, prior to college. Zangrilli and Lutes guided them in establishing a board of directors and outreach related to the organization’s mission and programs.
“They’ve always been very, very supportive,” said Gibbard. “They’ve believed in our mission.”
SCORE’s monthly meetings and check-ins continue with Zangrilli, Lutes and new mentor Karen Kelly regularly sharing insights and helping them raise awareness for Girls Code the World to reach new students who can benefit from their outstanding programs.
According to Zangrilli, the mentees have taken the advice to heart.
“Mina and Sydney proved to be two exceptional young women who can handle whatever comes their way,” said Zangrilli. “They listened attentively to the guidance they were given and now have an impressive board of directors, have successfully run programs and raised over $40,000 to run their programs.”
Girls Code the World is offering its most expansive programming yet as part of 10 weeks of summer sessions at The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Participants can either pay for the program or receive a subsidized program cost based on income. Teachers can also “nominate students who are outstanding leaders in their classroom” to receive a scholarship, according to Gibbard.
“Because we are a nonprofit, we typically relied on grants,” Gibbard said, adding that applying is time-consuming. “We’re opting for people to pay for a program and help cover scholarship opportunities we want to provide for students.”
Girls Code the World is also considering corporate sponsorship opportunities to help fund future programming initiatives. Eventually, the hope is to expand the offerings to other cities and communities outside of the Greater Philadelphia area.
And while Gibbard and Shokoufandeh stay busy with their college studies, a new team of high school girls are running the program.
“We think it’s important that high school girls work with other girls,” said Shokoufandeh. “We’re all about women supporting women. We’re all women focused. We have an all-female board of directors.”
Visit buckscounty.score.org for more information on the small business mentoring organization.