The future of female computer scientists lays in the hands of Jeanette Shown, associate professor of computer science and information technology, and Meghan Gerke, junior computer science major.
This fall, Shown and Gerke will use their $8,500 grant from Google’s IgniteCS program to help spark interest in computer science in young girls at Goshen Middle School. IgniteCS focuses on “[making] a difference in local communities through [computer science] leadership,” according to their mission statement.
Last year, Google contacted Shown after the deadline for the grant was due and asked if she would be interested in applying.
“I think one of the reasons that I was tagged was because there aren’t very many female heads of science programs,” said Shown.
Without hesitation, Shown and Gerke teamed up to write a curriculum for an outreach program aimed to help spur interest in computer programming for young girls within their local communities. With help and advice from Google staff, Gerke and Shown created a program that will hopefully draw the attention of girls ages 12-14 years old.
Lack of women in computer science seems to be a consistent problem.
“[Middle school] is the age group where young women drop out of mathematics and lose interest in computer science,” said Shown. “So I targeted a middle school.”
Gerke and Shown said they are determined to teach at least 20 middle school girls that computer science is fun and a valuable skill. The outreach is also free to all Goshen Middle School girls, making this opportunity available to everyone, despite financial situations. Armed with “Raspberry Pi kits” – tiny computers that fit in the palm of one’s hand – and Minecraft, young girls at Goshen Middle school will learn the tools they need to become computer science whizzes.
“Programs like [Minecraft] make you not realize you’re doing smart programming,” said Gerke. “It’s a fun game but it also incorporates the skills you’ve learned as well.”
“People usually learn more when they’re having fun,” added Shown.
The outreach will follow a “traditional route.” Gerke and other Goshen College students will teach young girls computer science either after school or Saturday sessions in a classroom setting. Just like Goshen College, the program will have a small student-to-mentor ratio, hopefully ranging around 4-5 middle schoolers per teacher.
“[A small class size] would be a good start on what teaching should be like,” said Gerke. “It would make [programming] more understandable.”
Goshen College will hopefully be receiving this grant next semester, as it is renewable. Gerke said her dream for the outreach would be to “turn it into a program where it comes back every year.”
However, to turn the outreach into a yearly program, fresh new faces are a necessity. Shown and Gerke are currently accepting applications for mentors. Stipends of $1,000 will be given to those who acquire the position.
“I think it’s exciting to talk to students about [computer science,]” said Gerke when asked what she looks forward to as the outreach draws closer.
“We need to see more women in computer science,” said Shown. “Women change the dynamics.”