When Sep Kamvar showed his newest batch of students how to color the text on their Web pages purple, they jumped up and squealed. The Stanford consulting professor and former Google (GOOG) executive has been seeing a lot of that lately. His students are 10- and 11-year-olds at Girls Prep Middle School, a New York City charter school that serves mostly low-income families.
Kamvar and his wife, Angie Schiavoni, recently launched CodeEd, a pilot program to introduce fifth-grade girls to computer science. Funded with $20,000 donated by the couple, it's the only such program in the U.S. geared to underprivileged preteen girls. "We're doing this because we saw a gender gap and a socioeconomic gap in computing," explains Kamvar. The National Center for Women & Information Technology says 18 percent of computer science degrees awarded in 2008 went to women. Only 1 percent of girls who took the SAT in 2009 said they planned to major in the subject. This puts girls at a disadvantage in the global workplace, says Schiavoni, because "many of the new jobs being created are in the technology sector."
Schiavoni, 29, taught herself programing while working for Emily's List, a group that supports women political candidates. She has since started her own consulting firm. Kamvar, 32, who has a PhD in computer science from Stanford, started a Web search firm and sold it to Google in 2003. His Iranian-born parents and his sister also have PhDs in computer science.
CodeEd is divided into five-week blocks of one-hour Saturday sessions. Each girl is loaned a Dell (DELL) laptop and builds a website that becomes increasingly dynamic as the weeks go by. Most of the budding programmers are creating fan sites for heartthrob Justin Bieber.
Kamvar and Schiavoni, who divide their time between San Francisco and New York, plan to expand the curriculum through high school. They're already in the process of hiring teachers to bring CodeEd to more New York schools, then to other areas around the country.
Kimberly Morcate, principal of Girls Prep, says she hopes to make CodeEd a part of the regular curriculum."I suspect that learning about programming will have a ripple effect," she says. "It will get the girls wondering how other things are made, and they will come away from this class knowing how to be creators. It will open up a whole new world."
Kamvar sold his firm to Google; Schiavoni worked for Emily's List
Begin in New York City public schools, then East Palo Alto
Kamvar's interactive art has been shown at New York's MoMA