Converse University program aimed at closing gender gap in computer science - GoUpstate .

Go Coding

12 Views

        

play
Show Caption

It’s no secret that computer science is a male-dominated field. But what many people may not know is that instead of shrinking, the gender gap continues to widen.  

The national Girls Who Code organization reports that only 37% of those working in computer science in 1995 were women, and that number has dropped to just 24% today.  

The age when girls studying computer science typically drop off is between 13 and 17. That’s why Girls Who Code started reaching out to girls and nonbinary students in 6th-12th grades, encouraging them to join a local chapter as part of their effort to close the gender gap in entry-level computer science jobs. And they seem to be succeeding — Girls Who Code alumnae are choosing to major in computer science or related fields 15 times more than the national average. 

Chapters are located throughout the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and India. Here in the Upstate, we’re lucky to have a chapter of our own, headquartered at Converse University in Spartanburg. 

The local Girls Who Code chapter got started in 2020 and is led by Dr. Jessica Sorrells, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Chair of the Department of Mathematics at Converse. Dr. Sorrells and a team of Converse math majors and math/computer science professors serve as mentors for the club, which meets weekly via Zoom during the fall and spring semesters. 

No prior coding experience is necessary to join the club — in fact, most participants start out as beginners. 

Gender pay gap: Female CEO pay rose 26% in 2021, but not many women are in top jobs

“The point of the club is to introduce people to coding, what it can do, what a great skill it is to have, and how it can be fun—how it can be creative,” Dr. Sorrells said. “It doesn’t have to be some boring exercise. It can be a creative enterprise where you’re designing something of your own—your own website, your own game.”  

Converse’s Girls Who Code club offers 8-10 meetings each spring and fall semester. During the initial meeting, participants get to know each other and their mentors, and share their ideas for what to create, whether it’s a website, a game, or an app. Students are then divided into groups according to their chosen project and a Converse student or professor guides each group. 

“We spend the whole semester with them working towards that goal of learning whatever coding they need to learn to produce the outcome they’re interested in,” Dr. Sorrells said. “They have a shared document online in a browser. And they are writing code together at the same time and talking to each other about how to accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish.” 

“For example, last semester, they created a basic Ping-Pong game where a little ball would bounce back and forth on two different sides of the screen and the user can arrow up and down to move the paddles on either side,” she said. 

A typical meeting includes 30-40 minutes of real, hands-on coding, plus time in the end for the groups to come back together and share what they worked on. 

College grads snaring high-paying jobs: How the labor shortage made way for better benefits.

Another important component of each hour-long meeting is a discussion of successful women in technology and their accomplishments. “We’ve also brought in people to speak to the club,” Dr. Sorrells said. “We’ve had some students graduate from Converse and go on to get jobs where they are coding and we’ve had them come back and speak to the students who are participating and tell them here’s what my job is like and here’s how coding benefits me in my career.” 

Dr. Sorrells added, “Boosting women in tech is one of the main goals of the organization as a whole and specifically getting grades 6 through 12 students interested in coding and hopefully encouraging them to continue doing coding as they go into college. We are trying to help students, especially girls and women, feel more confident going into technology and coding.” 

The benefits of joining Converse’s Girls Who Code club go far beyond simply learning to code. It’s also a great social tool, offering teens a way to make connections with like-minded peers who may go to other schools. 

“They have fun talking to each other,” Dr. Sorrells said.

It’s also an excellent option for teens who need to participate in an extracurricular activity to boost their college application or resume. 

“We also are hoping that this gives students a little bit of a peek into Converse, so maybe one day they will consider Converse as a nice place to study computer science or to study in general,” Dr. Sorrells said. “And hopefully they’ve built that connection with us over the years from attending the program and they feel comfortable exploring Converse as an option for college.” 

She said the club meetings usually include a mix of new and returning members. She added, “You can join at any time if you miss the first meeting or two—we will still welcome you in.” 

It’s free to join and participate. The next Girls Who Code session starts in September, so students who are interested should fill out the online interest form before August at this link. 

While the Converse University chapter of Girls Who Code is focused on Spartanburg and Greenville counties, any girls and nonbinary students in grades 6-12 can join. The only other requirement is the ability to join a Zoom call. 

For more information, email girlswhocode@converse.edu.

This story will appear in the fall edition of Spartanburg Magazine.