Dig Baton Rouge

Code Like a Girl

By Matt Starlight

Gathered together in a third floor of Middleton hall, the Women in Computer Science at LSU prepare for their study session of algorithms, coding and program development.

The scribbles on the whiteboard are undecipherable to outsiders, but as basic as the ABC’s to them. On the surface, they are similar to any other study group you could find roaming the halls, but these women are on a much more specific mission than others. While most study groups work for an A, the WICS sees their classwork as the beginning of an important movement on campus. As a vastly outnumbered minority in the Computer Science department, they cherish the opportunity to study with other women.

President Alexandra Willis describes it as “a safe space for women in computer science to study and network.” According to Willis, the group was started by Alena G. McDuff, Coordinator of Undergraduate Initiatives, to bring together the women interested in some peer-to-peer tutoring.

“It’s something we all wanted to do,” says Willis, “She picked us all out from separate places and said, ‘Hey, you guys all have this in common. Why don’t you put something together?’ And so we did.”.

They began with only 6 officers (1 more than the minimum 5), but Willis has actively and successfully sought new recruits in the basic computer science classes. Since then, their numbers have more than doubled.

“We were really excited about our turnout for the first meeting of the group,” says Sarah Baldwin, Membership Chair. “It’s amazing at all that we even found 6 girls who wanted to help found the group.”

To account for the growth, the WICS has put a special emphasis on their flagship activity: a big sister/little sister program to make sure that everyone who needs it can get one-on-one tutoring.

Currently, the extent of their organizational activities is study sessions and social events; however, they have their sights set on much loftier goals for the future. Kristen Barrett, Events Chair, says their long list of aspirations for the group includes a website than any of them can actively modify, both improving their web presence and expertise, along with volunteer efforts around campus.

They are also hosting the Division of Computer Science and Engineering Industrial Advisory Board’s question and answer panel, which includes representatives from Microsoft, Gameloft and ExxonMobil, an opportunity for students to learn more about the professional world as a Computer Science student and improve the curriculum. WICS view this as a chance to make their presence known in the computer science department. Another of their efforts includes talks with IBM to organize a networking and social event with some of their female employees in the industry.
As for career paths, many of the women have expressed an interest in video game development, an area that could desperately use a shot of social change in the arm.

“It’s actually an interest that a lot of people in computer science, including girls, have,” said Willis. “Only 5% of game developers, as in people who program video games, are women.”

Having just hosted a Global Game Jam event and a resident EA Sports facility, LSU is positioned as a prime campus in the country to effect some change. The WICS are building their organization on the idea that like-minded minorities banding together will increase their odds of success. The lack of women in the computer science industry is gaining steam in the country as a problem that needs an answer. Nearly all major tech corporations are actively seeking women to even out their staff and universities are getting desperate to diversify their enrollment in computer science classes; however, the WICS sees this not as intimidating, but as an opportunity.

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