Colorado State University computer science professor Chris Wilcox has teamed up with a CSU student and an HPE (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) employee to form a club for high school female students to learn more about coding and the computer science industry.
Changing the culture
The computer science field, historically, has been predominately male. Over the last six years, CSU’s sophomore-level computer science courses have been about 10 percent female students. This year, they have seen an increase to about 19 percent, which Wilcox attributes to cultural changes, and efforts to attract more females to the field. Girls Who Code is one of those efforts.
The idea for a club came from Fort Collins high school student Olivia Thero. She stumbled across Girls Who Code information and decided to look into starting a local chapter. Olivia and her mom, Alison, then spoke to people around Fort Collins who would be interested in teaching, hosting, and starting up this type of activity.
“It took a while to find Chris, and he was thinking the same thing,” Alison Thero said.
Support from HPE
HPE’s Alison Thero is a club volunteer and a 2007 CSU MBA graduate. She mentioned how the majority of young females who know about computer science come from families with ties to the industry. Clubs like Girls Who Code will hopefully expose more students from a wider variety of backgrounds to coding and engineering, earlier on.
The club started in January and has continued to add new members. HPE has provided both financial and programmatic support.
The students are working on preset curricula and projects, which are taught by Wilcox. The hope is that eventually, they will do things like design websites and incorporate more creative processes into the content.
“We have girls who are interested in art, sports – we have a harpist,” Thero said. “We want to show these girls how they can use these computing skills … to facilitate their own interests.”
Girls Who Code is a national nonprofit organization that offers summer immersion programs, clubs and teaching opportunities to educate girls about computing. According to their website, just 0.4 percent of high school girls express interest in majoring in computer science. Having a chapter on CSU’s campus could help spread knowledge of the computer science department, and the field, to many young women in Fort Collins.
Meilin Kalahiki, the club’s teaching assistant, is a sophomore computer science major from Kauai, Hawaii.
Kalahiki was originally a computer engineering major, but after taking one of Wilcox’s courses, she decided to switch into computer science.
“I hadn’t heard about Girls Who Code until Chris asked me, but now I’m so happy to be a part of it,” she said. “It’s really amazing to see how much these girls know and want to learn about computer science.”
She mentioned how she has gained “humility” from being part of Girls Who Code, and she hopes to inspire the younger students.
“It’s just very humbling to teach these girls what I know,” she said.
Thero also said the club is not just about what the students can learn, but also how they can give back to the community. The club has had guest speakers from across the nation Skype into club meetings to talk to the students about future opportunities. Club leaders also hope to organize field trips to local businesses in Fort Collins to tour IT departments.
“We’re hoping to make this the first of many years,” Thero said.
Girls Who Code meets every Tuesday night from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the computer science building on campus. Wilcox is also planning several future programs for girls, including a summer opportunity. For more information or to get involved, Chris Wilcox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.