How one Girl Scout found her passion for CS through Code.org and made changes in her community
Once Nataly Gonzalez took her first computer science course, she didn’t look back.
Her journey began in 6th grade when she enrolled in an introductory coding class that included Code.org activities at her school in Miami, Florida. Her teacher at the time, Karen Terilli, said Nataly’s talent and passion for computer science was immediately apparent.
“She would help the other students and she could do things I couldn’t even do,” said Terilli, who is the school’s librarian and was a first-time Code.org CS Discoveries teacher during the 2018–2019 school year. “She took to it immediately, she was just a natural.”
In 7th grade Nataly enrolled in Terilli’s semester-long CS Discoveries course, and her talents truly began to shine as she entered two coding-based art competitions.
For the first, she created a colorful animation of the iconic Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World. The background shows the castle’s silhouette as the screen steadily fills with colorful dots and then turns teal, revealing Nataly’s name. She programmed the animation on Code.org, and the 339-line project earned her one of the top three spots in a competition held by Big Sister/Little Sister at Florida International University in Miami. She was the only middle schooler who won, while the rest were high school girls.
Then she earned top accolades in a second competition held by Code/Art Miami. Created using Khan Academy, the project features an animated bunny walking under a tree as red apples fall to the ground. At just 112 lines, the project took first place.
That wasn’t all. As a Girl Scout since Kindergarten, Nataly looked to her newfound passion for computer science to fulfill the requirements to earn a Girl Scout Silver Award — the highest award a Girl Scout Cadette (scouts in 6th-8th grades) can earn for taking action on an issue in a sustainable way. To this end, and in true Girl Scout spirit, Nataly demonstrated leadership and initiative by creating a coding club for second graders. The club quickly grew to 25 second graders and met once a month for six months. She used Code.org’s CS Fundamentals curriculum to walk the kids through computer science basics.
“[I thought] it was good for younger kids to get into coding, and second graders are old enough to read and understand what coding is,” Nataly said. “CS Fundamentals helped teach them the basics since most of them have never coded before. When they understood one lesson, I would assign them more difficult projects throughout the year.”
Nataly asked if Terilli would sponsor the club, and Terilli enthusiastically said yes. “I just wanted to encourage this young lady every way that I can because she has a real talent,” Terilli said.
Girl Scouts announced 42 new badges in July, 18 of which focus on Coding for Good. The new badges encourage girls in grades K–12 to learn through a variety of activities like coding positive memes to spread a message about a cause they care about, or designing digital games to educate people about an issue, said Suzanne Harper, Senior Director of National STEM Strategy for Girl Scouts of the USA.
“Girl Scouts inspires girls to enter into all STEM fields by offering engaging programs that spark their interest and harness their untapped talent,” said Harper. “We’re so proud of Nataly’s work to bring STEM programs to younger generations in her community. Girl Scouts like Nataly are using their STEM passions to make a positive change.”
Next year, Nataly will be in 8th grade and plans to expand the club to meet twice a month and have it continue through the entire school year. Although she’s still young, she says she plans to major in computer science in college, and her dream job is to work as a developer at a large tech company. She says she not only wants to pursue her own dreams, but she also wants to be a role model for other girls and women in computer science.
“There aren’t a lot of female coders. In the workplace, men dominate women,” she said. “But in today’s society, my goal is to show girls how much of a difference they can make by studying computer science. Women can do anything men can do.”
-Kirsten O’Brien, Code.org