Meet Giques Rupali Dhumne and Eleni Georgiou

Students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science  and Technology and Creators of Project CODEt.

Project CODEt is an organization founded by high school students in the Northern Virginia region to encourage and foster an interest in Computer science through activities such as workshops, programs, and other engaging activities.

Rupali Dhumne, Founder & CEO of Project CODET

Tell us about how you got to where you are today.

"Being one of the first children in my family to pursue a Computer Science career, I didn’t have any programming experience prior to my Freshman year of High School at TJHSST. I had taken technology courses before, but was always reluctant to pursue programming because of the lack of gender diversity within the course. When I signed up for my first Computer Science course, I constantly worried about whether I would succeed not only because everyone else in the course already seemed highly experienced, but also because I didn’t conform to the stereotypical idea of a programmer (someone who’s introverted, geeky, etc). However, I soon learned that Computer Science is not just about sitting behind a computer for 8 hours a day (as many people would think), but it’s about working in teams to solve a problem and using problem-solving skills to break down a larger challenge into smaller tasks. As I continued learning java, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed completing each assignment, which to me was like a puzzle, anxiously waiting to be solved. As my passion for the subject grew, I chose to embrace all the Computer Science opportunities around me, and was able to find other females like myself who were passionate about Computer Science yet did not conform to the “programmer stereotype”. By experiencing feelings of anxiety firsthand and learning to excel in a field surrounded by gender inequality, I was personally able to break down the social stigmas surrounding Computer Science and hope to continue my journey as a programmer, educator, and activist in the computing field."

How did you come up with the idea to create Project CODEt?

"While I was originally quite nervous to join Computer Science organizations, thinking that I wasn’t capable of studying such a field, I soon learned to confidently respond to those who asked me, “Why are you here? You don’t seem like someone who’d pursue CS” or “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I’m just surprised that you like CS”. By my Sophomore year, I was actively participating in 3 Computer Science organizations, out of which two were female-oriented. However, I was quick to notice the lack of gender diversity within the latter club and was confused as to why there was a gender-gap, considering the enthusiasm expressed by girls in female-oriented Computing clubs. After searching for an answer, I came to the conclusion that the intimidation or reluctance factor that overcomes many girls as they attempt to participate in a male-dominated field stems from a lack of early exposure. And from that societal issue, Project CODEt was born with the goals of early exposure and equality. By starting a Nonprofit organization, I hoped to create an environment in which girls could learn Computer Science alongside boys at an early age, so if they developed an interest in the subject and chose to pursue it throughout their academic career, that intimidation factor would be eradicated, allowing girls and minorities to excel in the field because they would have had experience with the subject beforehand. As I began conducting workshops and approached my friend Eleni Georgiou to help me grow the organization, I realized that participants were often intimidated by the idea of Computer Science because they had never been exposed to a course like it before, especially one containing elaborate terminology. In order to develop a more “friendly” technique of teaching the subject, I decided to further the idea that anyone can code and integrate Non-STEM  subjects and computer science, showing the versatility that comes with learning to code. For example, we formulated the idea of “CS+Art” which combines STEM and art to teach students how to create their own digital artwork using simple programming commands. We hope to further pursue this theme in future workshops as well as our CODEt Day event for which the theme will be “CS+X”, where we will have workshops involving CS+Art and CS+Fashion."

What does being a gique mean to you?

"To me, a Gique is a well-rounded individual who yearns to break down the STEM related stereotypes and demonstrate to the world that anyone can simultaneously participate in both “Left-Brained” and “Right-Brained” activities. I believe that more of our generation should fearlessly embrace the idea of being “gique” as they will be able to integrate their Non-STEM and STEM passions to truly embrace what they love and pursue their endeavors regardless of the stigmas that society presents them with."

What is your advice to other students who want to bring their ideas to life?

"When I first realized that I was interested in STEM, I never thought that I would end up Computer Science. For anyone who is a gique or wishes to embrace their inner gique, I advise that they keep an open mind and embrace all the learning opportunities that society has to offer. Throughout my journey, I’ve learned the importance of never giving up, regardless of the obstacles placed in front of me. All you truly need is a mere idea to spark an interest and impact your community. Take your idea, goal or interest and gather all the information you can relating to it. There will be obstacles and societal pressures placed on you, but it’s important to remain confident and believe in your idea. By combining perseverance, collaboration and ambition, there truly are no boundaries as to what you can do."

Eleni Georgiou, Executive VP of Project CODET

Tell us about how you got to where you are today.

"I was introduced to STEM at a young age by my older siblings who got me started on Scratch, Javascript, and HTML. If it were not for them, I might not be where I am now. After being admitted into TJHSST, a science and technology magnet school, I threw myself into the available computer science opportunities available. One of the most significant events in the start of my career was attending a meeting to organize a computer science related event in the beginning of my freshman year. There I met other girls that were passionate about computer science, and together we started a girl coding club which even led to organizing a hackathon. With this experience in just two short years, it made sense for me to join Project CODEt as I am passionate about the mission."

How did you get involved with creating Project CODEt?

"A few months ago, a good friend of mine, Rupali Dhumne, asked me to help grow her non-profit organization, which would mentor younger students in computer science. We saw that schools don’t teach young students what programming is and thought it was important to create a program where students could be introduced to computer science. Figuring it all out took time, but it was worth it as our workshops and events are making an impact on young students. An exciting event we have coming up, called CODEt Day, will be centered around the theme CS+X. A topic we want to focus on is CS+Art, where students will be able to attend workshops and talks and see how these two areas can merge into one."

What does being a gique mean to you?

"A gique is someone who is passionate about something - anything. They might know every minute detail about a topic that interests them, but more importantly they aren’t afraid to embrace what they love."

Any words of wisdom?

"I never gave up and always held on to the vision I started with. Everyone has to start somewhere, and as long as you are passionate about an idea and are willing to work hard, you can succeed. Try looking for a partner with the same vision as you and look for guidance from others that may have experience. But whatever you do, just start doing it."