I’m honored to be the February Spotlight for Tech-Girls Monthly, the killer newsletter from Tech-Girls and Charlottesville Women in Tech. Each month, they highlight a different woman working with technology and feature their story in their newsletter and on their website. Check out my interview – including what drives my passion and interest in technology, and why I make it a point to make big, messy mistakes in front of my students as often as possible – below! Or you can read it in its original format directly from Tech-Girls, here.
Each month we spotlight a woman or girl in tech who inspires us. This month we are highlighting Sarah FitzHenry, a library superhero!
“I’m a 21st century librarian. People are generally surprised to learn that technology is integral to librarianship, but we can get the whole librarian stereotype thing out of the way right off the bat: I’m loud, I love computers, and stamping and shelving books is only a fraction of my multi-faceted job. I’m the K-8 library media specialist at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, and kids shush me a lot.”
How do you work with technology today?
Libraries are dynamic, constantly evolving community resources, and incredibly tech-savvy minds and hands are required to keep up. All libraries have the obvious tech components (digital cataloguing and archiving, computer labs and/or tech-based programming, devices available in the library collection), but as a school librarian, I get to utilize technology and media literacy in a unique way.
St. Anne’s-Belfield School has an incredible computer science program, and I’m lucky enough to work closely with our K-8 Computer Science Coordinator, Kim Wilkens, to bring CS projects and ideas into the school library. We team up for multiple units each year, like using media literacy and coding to teach fourth graders to recognize fake news, using 3D rendering and graphic design to solve library problems using the design thinking process, and a school-wide unit we call The Twelve Days of Tech-Mas (which, more accurately, is more like a month-long technology party).
We also work together to create experiences for kids that blend literature and computer science in a way that challenges what students traditionally expect from a library. Kids that consider themselves strong readers but feel intimidated by the CS lab are much more likely to try out something new at a book club meeting that happens to feature robotics; tech program regulars that don’t spend much time reading will happily pick up a book if they know that they can help run the makerspace we’re building to celebrate it. We combine libraries and tech in a fun and creative way that pushes students to look past the “but this is too hard!” mental block and focus instead on all of the amazing things they can do.
What drives your interest in technology?
I’m a very curious and creative person, and my day doesn’t feel complete unless I’ve learned or designed something new. Computer science is full of puzzles to solve and ways to express creativity, which is so satisfying.
As a teacher, my drive is intensified by knowing that I’m a role model to hundreds of children. I know that they all benefit from seeing a woman with a strong interest and passion for technology, making mistakes and learning new things right alongside them. My tech skills are mostly self-taught, I’m not a traditional tech expert, and I’m constantly learning by failing. I love sharing that with my students! I’m happy to be a part of the effort to normalize women in tech taking risks, failing forward, speaking up, and unabashedly claiming a seat at the table.
Who inspires you to pursue your passion?
I’m endlessly inspired by the young girls that I am trusted to teach and mentor. Every day, they remind me why it’s important to show up, stand up, speak up, and do it with pride. They’re watching and listening all the time (especially when things go wrong!), and it’s a privilege to listen, support, and guide them as they learn and grow. I aim to be the person that I needed when I was younger; if I’m lucky, my passion and confidence could become theirs. Being a role model to young people is not a responsibility that I take lightly, and the commitment pushes me in a powerful way.
What most excites you about the future of technology?
It may sound weird coming from a person who loves technology and uses it both personally and professionally, but I’m excited to see where we end up when we eventually rebound from this current trend of “techno-maximalism” (if you’re not familiar with Cal Newport’s term, it’s a super interesting Google). Will our next stop be digital minimalism, and more mindful use of technology? Will we decide that we’ve had enough and totally unplug? Or will we jump in with both feet and just embed stuff directly into our brains and bodies, a-la the fantasies of teen dystopian fiction? Whatever comes next, I’m excited to learn.
Thank you to Tech-Girls and Charlottesville Women in Tech for giving me the chance to share my story! Both Tech-Girls and CWIT are non-profit organizations dedicated to sparking girls’ interest in computer science and technology, and transforming Charlottesville into the destination for women in technology to live, work, and build a career. If you’re in the Charlottesville area, check out both of these amazing organizations – there are ample opportunities to support and get involved, and they’re well worth your time.