CSE was a sponsor of the first-ever CS KickStart, which is a week long summer program that encourages women without prior programming experience to consider studying computer science. This program is free for attendees and gives 20-25 students the opportunity to learn how to code, connect with other students and faculty, and explore potential careers in computer science. The program was founded by CSE PhD student Meghan Clark and the 2016 program was organized by CSE PhD students Nilmini Abeyratne, Laura Wendlandt, Cathy Finnegan-Dollak, and CS undergraduate student Katie Hennell. The faculty advisor of the organization is Prof. Rada Mihalcea.
The event took place August 28th to September 2nd on North Campus, and included programming labs, CS lab tours, field trips to local tech companies, and social events to get the participants acclimated to U-M and computer science.
The number of women in CS at Michigan has grown over the years, but it is still necessary to continue to expand opportunities for women in computing. Clark states, “I’m fascinated by the gender gap in CS. I’m always searching for data to better understand the driving forces behind the current underrepresentation of women in computing. In 2015, I analyzed survey data from EECS 280 students and found major gender differences in prior programming experience and commitment to the idea of pursuing a CS career path. The majority of female students had entered Michigan with no programming experience, unlike male students.”
She also states, “Women need computer science. CS jobs are fast-growing, high-paying, and stable. Additionally, computer scientists help build the systems that influence the changing structures of society. By missing out on computer science, women are missing out on financial opportunities and a voice in shaping the future. I see CS KickStart as a case study to illustrate that small interventions at the right time can have a big impact on the gender gap. We are doing a thorough evaluation to see what longitudinal effects CS KickStart has on participants.”
Meghan Clark hopes that CS KickStart will have an impact on the gender gap in computer science, as well as, and potentially translate into broader departmental changes in the future.