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Augusta University introduces girls to city's growing cyber world through coding classes

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Published: Jun. 29, 2017 at 8:29 AM EDT
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News 12 NBC 26 News This Morning | June 29, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- If there's a word to describe Augusta, it's cyber.

Last week alone saw the groundbreaking for the new cyber center at the old Golf and Gardens Plaza took place as well as the announcement for Augusta university's new cyber school.

As more businesses make their way to the southeast's fastest-growing cyber hub, the school is also working to get young girls prepared for this field, hoping to bring more diversity and new ideas to a male-dominated workplace.

Computer keyboards and robots. A few months ago, students like Ashlyn Burns had no idea how to connect the two.

But as Augusta University's inaugural "Girls Who Code" program wraps up, she's got a better idea on what makes them tick. She says getting that closer look at the world of programming helped erase her fear of the unknown after years of cyber shows and movies.

"Most people think just because you say code, it has something to do with computers, they think it's really hard because it looks complex in the movies," says the Academy of Richmond County rising junior. "But really, it's just little parts that you have to remember. It's not hard at all."

More than 50 girls just like her learn the ins and outs of basic coding through creating games, web design tutorials, creating mobile applications and even making a bot of their own over the span of three months.

"Programing the robots, we told it to turn left, turn right. All we had to do is say turn left, turn right," Burns says. "That's all we had to do. It's really easy."

Another lesson taught through the course is the ethics of hacking, an important skill to know as the cyber scene continues to grow around Augusta through Fort Gordon and AU's new cyber school. Michael Nowatkowski, one of the group's founders with his own daughter in the program, says it's also about bringing more diversity to what he calls the boys club of cybersecurity.

According to Girls Who Code, 1.4 million cyber jobs will open up by 2020 with only 29 percent being American workers. Of that, just 3 percent are expected to be women.

"There's a lot of good ideas that everybody can bring to that workforce," Nowatkowski says. "To think that half of our population is not potentially interested or going to come into that workforce really puts us at a disadvantage."

Even with those numbers, Burns says she's still got a head start as more opportunities open up around Augusta.

"In the medical field, they're looking for people to take patient's information. You can do that without coding," Burns says. "Construction, you can do digital design, web design, building things. So everything that we're doing now is based around technology."

The folks with the program say they're already at full capacity for the next camp they're hosting this fall once school starts up again, so much that they've got a waiting list for girls who want to join.

The program is free to any female student between 6th and 12th grades and meet the second Tuesday and Thursday of each month.

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