Faculty, students help bridge gender gap in computer science

March 26, 2018
Girls Who Code Club
Girls Who Code Club
Girls Who Code Club

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Donna Gavin, senior lecturer in the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, is working to bridge the gender gap in the field of computer science and software engineering, starting in the local community. To do this, Gavin, with the help of several UW-Platteville computer science and software engineering students, recently established a Girls Who Code Club.

Girls Who Code is a free club for 6th–12th grade girls and currently has 16 girls enrolled. This club introduces girls to the concepts of loops, conditionals and functions to help members develop a basic understanding of programming.

According to girlswhocode.com, the organization began in 2013 and is growing into a national movement. The organization started with 20 girls in New York City, New York, and is about to reach 40,000 girls across the United States. This movement is a response to counter the diminishing number of female computer scientists. Technology-related jobs are among the fastest growing in the United States, and Girls Who Code’s purpose is to encourage girls and minorities to consider a career in the field.

Dr. Molly Gribb, Dean of the College of Engineering, Mathematics and Science, introduced Gavin to Girls Who Code last spring by sending a few different links about opportunities within the organization. With the idea in mind, Gavin needed to advertise to the surrounding area and used the Hour of Code event she organized last fall to promote the new Girls Who Code Club.

Gavin said Girls Who Code is a way to give back to the community, and she is thankful for the female role models that she had in middle and high school.

“When I was in seventh grade, I had a female science teacher who I really looked up to,” Gavin said. “She was my first female scientist-type role model. I stayed after school every day just to organize litmus paper and clean out beakers. She was a great mentor, and she influenced my decision to pursue science. If I can step in her shoes in some way, I am hoping it will inspire some of these girls to think computationally and apply it to whatever field they end up choosing.”

Currently, seven UW-Platteville students assist with the club. From leading interactive discussions about a woman in technology, to assisting the girls in learning how to develop code, to helping with group activities, the students assist in various ways.

“From the beginning, I knew that I was going to need help,” said Gavin. “In the fall, I connected with all of the women that we have in the computer science and software engineering programs and let them know that this opportunity is available.”

Gavin wanted to ensure that all of the girls in the club have access to technology.
She reached out to Ultimate Software, a company that provides services for financial management and human resources, and asked if they had older laptops that they would be willing to donate to the club. Ultimate Software was happy to assist and donated 22 laptops. Vivian Maza, chief people officer for Ultimate Software, told Gavin that this contribution is to help “one young girl at a time.”

“I am thankful for all of the people who have helped out with Girls Who Code so far,” Gavin said. “The Women in EMS Program has helped out by financing our student helpers for the service that they give to the girls. I really appreciate the seven computer science and software engineering majors that come with me to all of the meetings to help me stay organized. I am also thankful for Esterline for their donations to both the Hour of Code and Girls Who Code.”

Girls are encouraged to join the club at any time. The Girls Who Code Club meets every Tuesday from 4-6 p.m. at the Platteville Public Library. Girls who are interested in joining the club can register at www.uwplatt.edu/ems/girls-who-code. This year’s program will conclude on May 1 but reopen during the next academic year for girls to begin or continue learning about coding and computer science. 

Written by: Dalton Miles, Student Writer, Communications, milesda@uwplatt.edu


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