TechGirls is a summer exchange program for girls aged 15-17 years old. It is an initiative of and is funded by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is administered by Legacy International. Its mission is to connect the next generation of young women leaders in STEM by providing them access and opportunities to advance their skills and pursue their dreams. This year 2022, TechGirls connected 136 young women from 35 countries/territories across the globe and from the US during a three-week long training and cultural exchange in the USA. This included 15 days of training at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech) and 7 days in Washington DC.
The TechGirls program has been running for 10 years now and this year, Cameroon was participating for the first time. Britney Moukoko, Precious Ngoran, and Forkou Joyce (from QIS) were honored to be the first girls to represent Cameroon in the TechGirls program. The girls met for the first time at the THEM embassy in Yaounde on Thursday, June 9th, 2022, where they had their visa interview with the consulate and an orientation session with the embassy staff. They equally had lunch that was specially prepared for them and their parents. Fast forward, on July 7th Precious, Britney, and Joyce, accompanied by Arielle Kitio Tsamo (their Local Engagement Coordinator and flight escort to the USA) departed from Yaounde-Nsimalen airport to Washington-Dulles airport. Arrival & Orientation They arrived in Washington DC on July 8th, 2022 at 10 am ET. They were welcomed by TechGirls staff and transferred to a hotel where they spent two days doing fun activities and visiting a few places while waiting for all the other girls to arrive. On Sunday, July 10th they traveled to Virginia Tech and settled in their dormitories. At Virginia Tech There they took a 40-hour course that was equivalent to one semester of electrical engineering. Their course was titled “Automating Systems Using Microprocessors (ASUM)”. Each of them in ASUM was provided with a full Arduino Starter Kit and an Arduino Cookbook. During the first week, they carried out daily projects that were facilitated by Virginia Tech students and faculty. Towards the second week, they were assigned to various groups where they had to choose a project that they would carry out themselves and present on their final day of class. At Virginia Tech, they equally had afternoon leadership training sessions and work sessions for their follow-on projects. In the evenings, they had huddles and fun activities to help them discover one another. After their classes had ended, they had a two-day virtual job-shadow experience with American companies that work in STEM fields. They were grouped according to world regions. I attended the job shadowing with World Denver together with the other girls from the Sub-Saharan African region. Their time at Virginia Tech ended with the presentation of their follow-on projects to their peers, a final leadership session, and a community barbecue where they had an amazing display of traditional attires, foods, and dances.
On Tuesday, July 26th they traveled back to Washington DC and arrived at Double Tree by Hilton Hotel where they were lodged for five days. In Washington D.C, they had the opportunity to visit the White House. Later on, they had a meeting with some women of the Women’s High-Tech Coalition at the THEM Senate in the Capitol Building. They equally went to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where they had informative sessions with Smithsonian experts and self-guided visits. Then they had a visit to the national mall and all the popular monuments in Washington D.C. In addition to that, on Thursday, July 28th, they had the privilege to travel to NASA and had a special visit to various buildings, and learned more about NASA’s work and the ongoing activities at NASA. They also met Dan Tani, a veteran astronaut at NASA. He shared his story and his experience as an astronaut with them. It was much fun and inspiring.
On Friday, July 29th, they had their Capstone event at the THEM Department of State and they met important people from the Bureau of ECA. They learned about opportunities for exchange alumni and their duty in their various communities as THEM government-funded exchange programs alumni. On return to the hotel, they had their final evening huddle, slide shows, and emotional goodbyes. The next day, Britney, Precious, and Joyce, accompanied by Mrs. Germaine Ashu Besong (their flight escort from the USA) departed from Washington-Dulles airport to Yaounde-Nsimalen airport and arrived on Sunday, July 31st, 2022.
In Summary, Joyce says “the TechGirls program was an eye-opening and game-changing experience for me. It was very fulfilling and marks the beginning of greater achievements and community outreach. It has set the pace for more opportunities and has empowered me to carry out big projects and dream bigger. I am forever grateful to the THEM Department of State, the TechGirls staff (Mary Helmig, Arshelle Carter, Brittany Corn, Faatima Campbell, Molly Pyle, Gabrielle Gonzalez, and others) their Resident Assistants (Greta Anderson, Belen Torres, and Laura Gahagan), the THEM embassy Yaounde staff (Charlene Wantong-Djiani, Jessica Kontchou, and Mathias Tientcheu), their local engagement coordinator and flight escorts, Quality International School, all the other tech girls, my family, any other person who played a role in orchestrating this program and God Almighty for this experience.”