In 2012, women made up only 18% of all computer science (CS) degrees and 27% of all computer science jobs. Women have always been underrepresented in STEM, but even compared to fields like physical science or mathematics, these numbers are low. Especially at Knox —being the small liberal arts school — it is hard to find an equal number of women and men in Computer Science classes.
Things changed in 2018 when Monica McGill joined the CS department on campus. McGill became the only woman on the CS staff and sparked the discussion of opening up the field more to the women of Knox. This led her to the idea of a club for young women on campus interested in the fields, as a major, minor or skill. This was the start of the Women in CS club, and among those women were Tehreem Anwar and Bishakha Upadhyaya, both juniors.
“If [McGill] wasn’t at Knox, the club would never have happened,” Anwar said.
McGill not only supported the idea of a club on campus that focused on women in CS, but also helped take students to various CS events and fundraise for attending.
While Women in CS acts like a club, it is actually an official chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and not registered on campus. They are funded by the CS department alone but still manage to attend and host multiple events a term.
One such event was the Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), named after the first woman to write a line of computer code. The three day conference in Orlando, Florida includes networking classes, talks from accomplished women in CS fields and tabling for big name companies.
“Often times we get to hear the names of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, but we never learn about Grace Hopper,” Anwar said. “The reason why GHC is so important is that it’s the celebration and recognition of women in computing.”
As far as other events this term, Women in CS co-hosted their first Hack-a-Thon with Coding Club and “What did Facebook say?” which introduced students to skills and tools they will need when the time comes for them to apply for jobs. While in their weekly meetings this term they have been focused mostly on hosting event. At their roots, their goal is to be a support system for female CS majors on campus.
“From our personal experience, feeling like you belong matters so much — in any field. And by seeing all the women who are in the field, you feel like you belong,” Upadhyaya said.
Specifically, Upadhyaya and Anwar have noticed the difference of women in introductory CS classes versus higher level courses. Upadhyaya is the only woman in her current CS class and Anwar is one of three girls in a class required for all CS majors. Upadhyaya believes the reason behind this lies in that same idea of belonging. Both her and Anwar noted still feeling too intimidated to ask questions in their classes in fear of being judged. At one point, Anwar found it so difficult to talk about CS with her friends that she took a whole year away from it to focus on her other major.
Women in CS are currently planning even more events for Winter Term to raise more awareness and offer more opportunities. Looking into the future, they are looking at doing another career summit with the CS department in Spring Term as well as another Hack-a-Thon. They are also looking at more events to attend off campus to help with the exposure of the club and its members.
The club meets weekly in the Gizmo on Thursdays at 6:00 p.m., and encourage anyone who is interested in CS Ñ to reach out and email Anwar or Upadhyaya. They even encourage other clubs to contact them in the chance that they need a website designed or a new logo. Women in CS hopes to even set up collaborative events with these other clubs in order to teach them CS skills and learn together.