The woman behind Afghanistan’s first coding school for girls and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist took center stage Monday afternoon as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson led a session on disruptive technology and innovation at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting in New York City.
After alerting the audience to NASA’s announcement concerning liquid water on Mars and the previous night’s “blood” supermoon eclipse -- which “did exactly what we predicted and expected it would do,” Tyson introduced Code to Inspire founder and CEO Fereshteh Forough and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and biomedical engineer Sangeeta Bhatia.
Forough explained that, in the next month, her organization will be establishing its first programming lab aimed at women between the ages of 15 and 25. The schools will allow women to learn how to code and program in a safe place, without fear, and prepare them for future employment opportunities.
Ultimately, she hopes the schools will serve as an incubator for graduates of the program to develop mobile apps and other projects, as well as a model that could be replicated in other Middle Eastern countries.
“I think technology and education are the best way for women empowerment and helping them to step into the new world,” Forough explained to Tyson.
The schools, she added, are about much more than coding.
“It’s also about how to increase your self-esteem, to present your idea and be more outspoken. That’s why it’s only for women. It’s the only place they feel relaxed comfortable, they can enjoy and ask any question they want and be innovative.”
At MIT, Bhatia and her students are working to develop synthetic human organs, an aim Tyson called “on the face of it, a little creepy.”
These organs can serve purposes big and small -- at the “teeny, tiny” level, Bhatia explained, very small artificial livers can be used to develop more effective malaria medicine.
In addition, Bhatia touched on the gender gap in technology and science -- "only 3 percent of high-tech startups are founded by women," she pointed out out -- and noted that there are some examples to follow in making continued progress.
At Harvey Mudd College, Bhatia said, three changes were made to the school’s curriculum and over five years the school increased its participation of women in its computer science program from about 10 percent to 40 percent.