Girls Learn to Develop Interactive Websites

gct20140125One of the most important initiatives of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Lewis University this year has been to try to increase the number of women who pursue a degree in Computer Science. Nationally, only 12% of Computer Scientists are women. At Lewis, of our 102 Computer Science majors, 15 are women. There is no reason for the number of female Computer Scientists to be so low, particularly when you consider that, among the sciences, the disparity in pay between men and women is lowest in Computer Science. Furthermore, even if you allow that, traditionally, the responsibility of childcare has largely been assumed by women and that this has slowed their career progress, it is important to consider that many jobs in computer science can be done from wherever there is an Internet connection. Truly, there would seem to be no good reason for the field to be so heavily dominated by men.

The shining star in our efforts to increase the number of women enrolled in the major is a program that will hopefully produce results over time rather than immediately. Our “Girls Create with Technology” program, which is funded by an AT&T Aspire grant, provides opportunities for high school girls to get advanced training in various aspects of Computer Science. The program, which is led by Dr. Cindy Howard, started with a four-day camp last summer in which the participants built and programmed robots from arts and crafts supplies and a computer control board called Hummingbird. Since that time, we have held Saturday morning sessions to teach the girls about the Raspberry Pi, how to build a wireless control system for robots, and how to develop mobile apps.

This morning, Dr. Howard presented a three-hour hands-on introduction to HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript, teaching the girls how to create stylish and interactive websites using a tool called Google Coder. Google Coder is a development environment that simplifies the process of creating a responsive website. While there are many such development tools available, the unique thing about Google Coder, aside from how intuitive it makes the process of modern web development, is that it was designed to run on the Raspberry Pi platform. We like the Raspberry Pi a lot, because it hearkens back to the hobbyist days of Computer Scientist, when the hardware was still exposed and one had an opportunity to learn how to write software while remaining constantly aware of what was going on behind the scenes to make that software run. It was a time when we all took computing less for granted and recognized it as the physical, tangible, remarkable thing that it is.

It is also remarkable, though certainly in negative way, that Computer Science remains so male-dominated. At Lewis, we are pushing hard to make that change. The girls who are participating in Lewis’ “Girls Create with Technology” program with Dr. Howard are learning how awesome this field is and how many opportunities exist for them. Hopefully they’ll be next decade’s newest Computer Scientists.

Ray Klump

About Ray Klump

Professor and chair of Mathematics and Computer Science Director, Master of Science in Information Security Lewis University http://online.lewisu.edu/ms-information-security.asp, http://online.lewisu.edu/resource/engineering-technology/articles.asp, http://cs.lewisu.edu. You can find him on Google+.

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