When Buffalo High School seniors Teaghen Sweckard, sister Addysen, and friends Seren Chapin, Shelbi Kovar and Georgia Wages first put up a poster advertising their all-girl coding club, they took a little ribbing from peers for being part of such a nerdy organization. But when the girls recently took first in the state at the Girls Go CyberStart Challenge several of their classmates – including boys – were suddenly clamoring to join.

Today, the club has grown to more than 30 students, and it’s safe to say that the girls have made coding cooler.

The win itself was pretty impressive, if not entirely surprising, even to them, given that up until a year ago only one, Teaghen, even knew how to code, yet none knew what it took to design an app.

Now, thanks to their hard work, the Buffalo Senior Center’s Meals on Wheels delivery program just got that much easier with the launch of a new app that streamlines the delivery process. Along with maps and directions to each client’s house, the app also provides schedules, dietary restrictions and other notes relevant to that client’s meal delivery, and can be easily updated on the backend through a spreadsheet.

As part of a club requirement, the girls were to required to isolate a problem within the community and create an app or use technology, to help solve it. Because some of them had been volunteer delivery drivers, they had experienced first-hand the loose-leaf binder cluttered with post-it notes that was the previous system, and knew they could do better.

It wasn’t their first idea and it took a bit of trial and error to get there. Preliminary concepts involved increasing tourism, helping those who have been sexually assaulted or bullied and even designing an app to allow online delivery for a local restaurant. But due to a variety of reasons, from licensure to skill levels, they landed on the Meals on Wheels delivery app, which was met with considerable interest from the Buffalo Senior Center.

The trick now, was learning how to actually code the app.

Enter BHS Technology Director Cameron Kukuchka and Sheridan College instructor Mark Thoney, both of whom worked closely with the team to help them get up to speed. They began working on the project last April and continued over the summer, meeting weekly at McDonald’s to compare notes and write code. Because they were using a Google application, they were able to work from the same document in real time and each worked on a specific task on the project.

This fall, Thoney learned of the Congressional App Challenge and encouraged the crew to apply.

Teaghen submitted the app on behalf of the team due to team size constraints. After a several month wait, Teaghen was notified that their app had won.

They were shocked when they’d heard they won, which along with $250 worth of Amazon web tools has earned Teaghen a trip to DC to the prestigious #HouseofCode and a lunch date with former Gov. Matt Mead, has also sparked an interest in learning more.

“They realized how successful they could be with no skills,” Kukuchka said, adding that he’s mighty proud of them.

Today, listening to the girls talk about Javascript, Bootstrap, PHPs and Cloud 9 code editors, they are more like characters out of a Mr. Robot episode than a group of teenage girls chatting around a lunch table.

They expressed interest in entering a couple more competitions as they peppered Kukuchka with questions about deadlines and other particulars as they relive the highlights of their last cyber security competition.

“I can’t afford to lose sleep for another month,” Teaghen jokes, remembering those sleepless days and nights designing the app. Along with learning code, the experience taught them how to deal with frustration, she added.

“It was mentally, physically and socially exhausting,” Shelbi said with a dramatic sigh.

“We learned that we might not get it on the first try,” Seren chimed in, “and it might be more like the 40th time but we’d get there.”

In that competition, too, they’d scored well in the top 50 schools across the nation, as the girls from the tiny town in northeastern Wyoming continue to put Buffalo on the map.

Starting Girls Who Code had been Teaghen’s idea, who became interested in learning how to code her sophomore year after putting together a bionic hand in a science class. Given her future interest in pursuing a career in medicine, learning how to code seemed like a great career move.

After approaching the student council to add a coding club on campus, Teaghen talked her friends into joining, who immediately agreed. Having these skills could only help them, and their parents readily agreed.

Plus, as they soon learned, not only was coding kinda fun but was also addictive.

Their interest was further cemented after Kukuchka shuttled them down to Boulder during the summer to tour Google Boulder, which more than anything they found most inspiring. For techy millennials, Google is about as cool as it gets, and the girls talked excitedly about how cool the employees were, the slides between floors in place of stairs, all the cool artwork and murals on the walls.

More than anything, they were impressed with the stories some of the employees shared about how they’d ended up working at Google.

“Not all the Google kids had the same story,” Seren said, pointing out that some of them hadn’t even known much about computers at the time but had just applied and shown a willingness to learn.

The possibilities of this resonated with the girls who up until a year ago had no idea of all they could do.

By: Jen C. Kocher

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