July 22, 2018 | ° F

Computing Corps students receive grant from AT&T

The Douglass-Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science Computing Corps, a group of female undergraduates in computer science related fields, received a grant from AT&T to continue its outreach program to local middle schools.

The program aims to bridge the gender gap in computer science by generating student interest through organizing computing activities and being role models to local teens, said Rebecca Wright, the director of the Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science.

“Women remain dramatically under-represented in [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields, especially in computer science and computer engineering,” Wright said. “Outreach to female students, as well as outreach by female students, is important because it may excite students who had not previously considered careers in computing.”

The Douglass Project and Rutgers DIMACS jointly run the Douglass-DIMACS Computing Corps. They work cooperatively to develop interactive computing lessons for local students in an effort to generate interest in computing, Wright said.

“It provides a supportive and informed peer community that the students doing the outreach are part of and can benefit from,” Wright said.

Elaine Zundl, the assistant dean of the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science, and Engineering, said the program gives women in computer science the opportunity to impact local communities.

“The objectives of the computing corps are to keep and retain undergrad women in computer science and information technology and to work with kids around New Brunswick to get them involved in the field,” said Zundl, a staff advisor for the Douglass-DIMACS Computing Corps

Participants in the Douglass-DIMACS Computing Corps are trained to be ambassadors for Rutgers and their fields, Wright said.

“Our goal is to expose local middle school students to computing in a fun and interesting way through a positive experience with Rutgers undergraduates in the hope that some of them will see college and Rutgers as goals for their future,” Wright said.

Zundl said The Douglass-DIMACS Computing Corps also fosters unity and solidarity for women in the field with career mentorship and a system of peer-to-peer support.

“They have visited schools and given short lessons with CS Unplugged — a program that teaches basic theories of computer science through fun games,” she said.

Kahini Amin, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, joined the Douglass-DIMACS Computing Corps last year.

“There’s a lack of women in the field, whether it’s science, engineering, computer science, or IT,” said Amin.

Amin said serving students in the New Brunswick area is more than just a resume builder for the 10 to 15 women in the Douglass-DIMACS Computing Corps.

“Because there’s so few women in the field, it feels rewarding to be a mentor for somebody else and to help get them into computer science,” Amin said. “It’s a leadership position for us, but it’s also a way for the kids to see if this is something they would like to do.”

Amin said she enjoyed the outreach programs she helped conduct last year, but is looking forward to new strategies the Douglass-DIMACS Computing Corps will employ in the coming year.

“We went to a school in Piscataway last year where we went to a few math classes and did an hour-long lesson on the basics of computer science, to get the students interested, but this year we’re taking a little bit of a different approach,” Amin said.

The group is planning area outreaches as well as a program at Rutgers for incoming students, Amin said.

Aneesha Cheedalla, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore in Douglass Residential College, said a program like the Douglass-DIMACS Computing Corps could have made her feel more welcomed into the computing field. She said she considered a major in Computer Science when she was a first-year student.

“Right now women only comprise 14 percent of computer science majors,” Cheedalla said. “There are many women who could be potentially interested in computer science that end up dropping out of it, like I did.”

Cheedalla, who settled on Cell Biology and Neuroscience instead, said outreach from female computing students is essential to make women feel more comfortable in pursuing degrees in computer science.

“I just felt uncomfortable because everyone looked like they knew what they were doing except me,” Cheedalla said, “I think that there should be more women in computer science, but there aren’t a lot of role models for them because many of the people who are famous for computer science work are men.”

Cheedalla said in her perspective, the program is a point of pride. She hopes the Douglass-DIMACS Computing Corps gives girls computing leadership and breaks gender barriers in computer science.

“Girls might be interested in it, but just don’t know about it because of the stigmas surrounding women going into the field. … Programs like the corps get girls involved in computer science so they don’t turn a blind eye to it when they’re thinking about career options,” Cheedalla said.

By Nicole Gifford

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