My parents always told my sisters and me that, with hard work, we could do anything. Before I even knew that modeling was a possible profession, my dream was to follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a doctor. Growing up, I loved my math and science classes and had an insatiable curiosity to learn more about how our world works.
I always planned on studying medicine—that is, until I was discovered at my local St. Louis shopping mall and found myself starting a career in fashion at age 15. It was a world I knew very little about at the time, but as I learned more, I grew to appreciate and love the art of design, modeling and photography.
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While I may have set aside my dream of becoming a doctor, I took my first coding class two years ago and feel like I am finally picking up where I left off with my math and science studies. I’ve also discovered that coding and fashion have more in common than I originally thought—both require creativity, problem-solving and self-expression. I’ve been fortunate enough to incorporate my love of science into my modeling career: I’ve worked with Vogue on a 3D photo shoot, spoken at South by Southwest about how tech is colonizing fashion week and modeled in a photoshoot with the Wall Street Journal at SpaceX, a company that designs and manufactures spacecrafts. My coding background has allowed me to better understand and appreciate each of these experiences; in fact, the computer-science classes I’ve taken have shown me the power code has to shape everything from fashion and music to business and social good.
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While there are endless creative applications of code, there are also many barriers to accessing computer-science education. Too few girls are encouraged to embrace their inner nerd and pursue math, science and programming. Women are underrepresented in computer-science classes, college majors and jobs. While women now make up over half of undergraduate college students, only 12% of computer-science degrees are awarded to women.
To empower young women to explore the endless possibilities associated with coding and to increase access to computer-science education, I decided to launch a coding scholarship for young women and girls last summer. In partnership with the Flatiron School, we provided 21 female students the opportunity to take the same course that kicked off my coding education one year earlier.
It was heartening to watch the students learn and challenge their understanding over the course of the two-week program. By the end, students had built impressive and inventive apps based on their interests and passions: There was a tool that uses weather data to make predictions about global warming, a virtual fashion closet resembling Cher’s in Clueless and an app that allows consumers to sample a book’s first few pages before purchasing it. While each of the students learned the same technical skill set, the diversity of these projects showed them how code can be applied to whatever industry they choose to pursue. I felt hopeful and proud watching these young women present their projects.
Now, one year later, I’m excited to expand this coding initiative and launch the first Kode With Klossy summer camp. Through our camp, nearly 80 young women in New York, Los Angeles and my hometown of St. Louis will join a community of female coding students to learn the fundamentals of the programming language Ruby. The Kode With Klossy curriculum, powered by the learn.co platform and taught by inspiring teachers, is designed to be fun, hands-on and collaborative. Through teamwork and creativity, each student will learn how to use code to build a web app that expresses her personal passions. I’m eager to share this transformative experience with this summer’s group of Kode With Klossy scholars and to continue to grow and build this community of bright young women.
Karlie Kloss is an American model, entrepreneur and founder of Kode With Klossy, a coding initiative that works to increase access to coding opportunities for young women.