Encouraging Latinas toward IT careers

By Fan Kong - May 2011


Denner, J., Bean, S., & Martinez, J. (2009). The Girl Game Company: Engaging Latina girls in information technology. Afterschool Matters8, 26–35.



This article shares design principles for supporting increased Latinas participation especially for afterschool programs promoting IT fluency.

What Is The Issue?

Although digital technology has become ubiquitous in our time, not everyone is afforded the same opportunities to pursue the fields of engineering, computer science, and advanced technology. This paper examines how an afterschool and summer program for middle school girls considered the roles of gender, culture, and youth development to increase the participation of Latinas in information technology (IT) careers.

What Was The Study?

The three-year program, called the Girl Game Company, targeted Latina girls in middle school, when students begin to make critical choices regarding identity, interest, and perceived skills. Immigrant Latinas face many barriers to a path in IT careers, including low confidence, negative attitudes toward technology and IT workers, cultural and gender role expectations in the Latino community, and limited access to computers. Therefore, in order to meet the challenge of closing the gap in STEM education, this program addressed identity and culture.

What Were The Findings?

This study found that successful program design components included:

1. Building cultural connections. Activities that involve the participants’ families and opportunities that connect girls with Latina women who work in IT affirm cultural traditions while providing students with mentors and resources.

2. Encouraging collaborative learning. Participants continued in the program because they enjoyed being with friends. By incorporating an activity such as computer programming in pairs, students can form meaningful friendships among their peers, which is important at this developmental age.

3. Leveraging existing interest in IT. The second most-cited reason for staying in the program (after peer interaction) was the opportunity to create a computer game. Instead of learning and using computers for schoolwork, designing and programming a computer game is a fun and creative activity that incorporates innovation and problem-solving skills.

Activities were developed and refined to promote IT fluency—meaning students have the skills to be producers of technology, not just users of technology—as based on the International Society for Technology in Education’s National Education Standards. An independent evaluation of the program found that graduates greatly increased their computer use by frequency and variety of activities such as journaling, blogging, and visiting online communities, increased their confidence with computers, and increased their perceived computer skills.