Young Coder Promotes Women in STEM

Daily Point of Light # 7701 Dec 8, 2023

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Reeva Khokhar. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Seventeen-year-old Reeva Khokhar is a senior in high school. She plays number one second doubles on her varsity tennis team and performs with a Bollywood dance troupe around the tri-state area. But, perhaps most importantly, she enjoys coding. Inspired by her parents, both programmers, Reeva grew up seeing firsthand how code plays a fundamental role in much of the world today from powering websites to enabling functionality of the apps on her phone. As a Marvel movie fan, she sees coding as a superpower to create and make an impact.

Without many options to learn at school, Reeva took the initiative to explore online education resources and book suggestions from her dad. Her resourcefulness became even more useful as she was offered AP classes in high school. It was there that she noticed she was one of few women pursuing that knowledge and decided to make a change.

Reeva’s roles at Girl Genius, Techgirlz and Girls Who Code have empowered more than 460,000 girls in more than 35 countries through workshops, events and conferences. Her female-focused hackathons provide a supportive community for participants to learn and showcase their skills. At the intersection of technology and advocacy, her work is chipping away at the gender gap in STEM industries and has earned her recognition with the New Jersey Volunteerism Award for Service Through STEM.

With the mission of addressing the gender gap in STEM fields, Reeva works to create supportive communities for girls to learn and be inspired.

What inspired you to get started with this initiative?

When I started becoming more involved in coding, I couldn’t help but notice a significant gender gap within the field. It was really disheartening to see some of my friends, who are equally as passionate, shy away from it because of that. In my first high school programming class, I think my two friends and I were the only three girls. Even now, women make up less than half of the STEM workforce.

When I went to hackathons, I saw these moments of imposter syndrome. All of this collectively fueled my work towards challenging this gender gap. I started improving my skills to be at the level where I could speak passionately and contribute. And I started empowering others to do the same. That brought me to the nonprofit space.

Tell us about your volunteer role with Girl Genius, Girls Who Code and Techgirlz.

TechGirlz runs workshops locally, teaching middle school girls about the possibilities of technology. I joined them four years ago as a volunteering assistant. Eventually, I became a lead instructor and led 40+ workshops introducing more than 800 girls to coding, web development, machine learning, etc. And now I work as a national teen advisory board member planning workshops and how we can expand their reach.

I joined Girl Genius as a blog writer during my sophomore year after finding it on social media. Their mission to empower and educate the next generation of STEM leaders resonated with me. Now, I’m the national executive director. We use workshops, blogs and social media to encourage girls to pursue their tech passions and have reached more than 460,000 people in 35 countries. I’ve started a chapter program that has expanded to 40+ locations, and I publish a bi-annual magazine exploring tech topics for a readership of more than 13,000.
I’m also co-president of my high school Girls Who Code chapter. Every Wednesday, I teach a group of 80 girls from my high school about different technology and how they can use it to create projects.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

I think the most rewarding part is when we get messages from people that say things like, “We really love this workshop and want to pursue this.” That positive feedback, whether it be virtually after a workshop or in person from someone at approaching me about joining Girl Genius or attending a hackathon, really drives me.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

Social media is a very powerful tool, and learning how to produce content that reaches and engages our audience is something that I really value. One challenge we initially faced at Girl Genius was volatile audience numbers. Some weeks we’d reach around 5,000 accounts and others around 3,000. Now we’re at around 6,000 accounts on a weekly basis.

We figured out when to post stories, what types of content to post and how to cater to our audience to create consistency. I’ve also learned how to effectively communicate and run community engagement activities so that everyone feels like they’re part of the mission and can add value.

Reeva is given a medal in the New Jersey State Governor’s Volunteerism Awards for her 1100+ hours of work empowering girls in STEM in the nonprofit space.

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

If you see a problem and you turn a blind eye, that problem will persist. When we start raising awareness about the problem, other people start resonating with the mission. They might become volunteers, gaining your cause more support and traction. Be an informed citizen and start speaking about what you feel is wrong or right.

Any advice for people who want to start coding?

Number one, don’t be afraid to take initiative. You have to start somewhere. When you have that inner drive to learn a skill, it will happen. You just need to be persistent. When I started programming initially, my problem sets wouldn’t work. I’d get frustrated, but I kept at it for hours and hours. In the end, it would work. It really helps to find what fuels you. When you leverage your resources and find ways to keep growing, there is no limit to what you can do.

My second piece of advice is to find people who make you want to become better at something. One of the main reasons I was able to develop my skills is because I had a supportive community. I’d encourage you to find peers and communities that support you and help you grow.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Reeva? Find local volunteer opportunities.


Kristin Park