It was the last day of computer coding class Friday for dozens of teen girls, all of whom came to Buffalo as immigrants or refugees.
The program, known as AT&T Coding Your Future, began in late July and gave participants the opportunity to learn computer skills, including coding, which sponsors say are just some of the STEM skills critical to enter the new workforce.
Among the students was Eitidal Dawootaja, who came to Buffalo from Syria. She spoke of a program she wrote, known as Scratch. She also spoke of the environment in which she learned these skills.
"When you sit down in a classroom and people around you have similar, same stories and same struggles, they give you more to be comfortable," she said. "It is a little bit easier, and you know more about their cultures and these things."
In addition to the AT&T, partners included WNY STEM Hub, Buffalo Urban League and Journey's End Refugee Services. Representatives of those organizations, as well as a handful of elected officials, were on hand to congratulate the students. Karen Andolina Scott, executive director of Journey's End, vowed to continue advocating for these girls - and others seeking refuge in the US - beyond this classroom.
"Just because this program is ending today and graduation is happening today, it doesn't mean our work for you, our advocacy for you or advocacy for immigrants and refugees who continue to come to the United States and continue to come to Buffalo is ending," she said. "It's now more important than ever for us to have our voices heard, to make sure our president is increasing the cap, the number of refugees who will enter in Fiscal Year 2019."
Speakers took turns advising the girls that STEM skills will be necessary, and potentially lucrative for them, in the modern workforce.
As for Dawootaja, she is enrolling in Erie Community College this fall and told WBFO she intends to become a brain surgeon.
"I want to be a brain surgeon to help lots of people, especially people who are poor and do not have enough money," she said.