When Erin McCluskey of Mooresville joined her school’s robotics team in fifth grade, she couldn’t have predicted that in four years she’d be writing computer code in Greenwich, Conn., with a supermodel.
A ninth-grader at Lake Norman High School, she enjoys reading and music, participating in marching band and her school band. Her interest in coding began with an elementary-school stint programming LEGO Mindstorms robots.
“I was the only girl on the team, which was a huge bummer,” she said. “I ended up having to do a lot of the work, specifically the programming. And I actually had so much fun with it.”
Now McCluskey, 15, will be able to deepen her study of coding with other young women. She is one of 21 winners of the Kode with Karlie scholarship to a New York-based computer boot camp.
Winners get a free two-week software development course at the Flatiron School, a private computer-science academy founded in 2012 and known for serving underrepresented groups. It is named for the landmark Manhattan building, an engineering marvel of the early 20th century.
Erin will attend the course startingJune 8.
McCluskey heard about the scholarship from her sister, and applied after realizing that it might be the only time she got such an opportunity. “I’m really excited, kind of nervous,” she said. “I never thought I’d be able to create an app or understand what’s behind the technology we use.”
Sponsored by Victoria’s Secret model – and Flatiron School graduate – Karlie Kloss, the scholarship is open to girls 13-18. More than 3,000 applied by producing a short video explaining their interest in coding.
“The Karlie scholarship is about raising awareness, showing that there are 3,000 young women who want to learn to program, showing that they’re in demand,” said Avi Flombaum, dean of the Flatiron School.
Tech industries remain dominated by men. Women hold only a quarter of jobs in the computer industry; black and Hispanic women, only about 5 percent.
Flombaum says, however, the trend is changing. He describes the Kode with Karlie Scholarship as an effort to “move the conversation down the road from ‘what do we do to get them interested in computer science?’ to ‘they actually are interested in computer science.’” He points to the scholarship’s namesake and sponsor, Karlie Kloss.
“Karlie is the perfect example of the changing landscape in the tech industry by breaking the archetype of the traditional programmer,” he said. An international model, she has worked with companies such as Abercrombie, Christian Dior and Coach.
Kloss is in a new music video for Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” She is also a 2014 graduate of the Flatiron School and has worked to open the field of computer science to women.
“I think it’s crucial that young women learn to code as early as possible to ensure that we, as young women, have a voice and a stake in what the world looks like,” Kloss said in a video announcing the scholarship competition. She compared coding to other creative pursuits, calling it a form of self-expression that can turn a “cool, innovative idea” into a product benefiting society.
In her winning video, McCluskey echoed Kloss, arguing that computer technology’s increasing importance made coding a vital skill. “And of course,” she said, “there’s not nearly as many young women in the field as there should be.”