Girls Code

BYU hosts coding camp for girls

During the second week of June, the Joseph Knight Building buzzed with the chatter of forty-one elementary-aged girls. These girls were the first campers to attend BYU’s pilot camp, Girls Code, a four-day coding camp for young girls.

“In general, boys have a lot more exposure to coding before coming to college,” said Juli Shelley, a member of the Women’s Initiative Committee who helped organize the camp.  “Our goal was to get the girls exposed to coding and hopefully help them find a passion for [coding].”

And many girls did find a passion for coding during the camp. One mother remarked that after attending Girls Code, her daughter wanted to have a coding camp for her birthday party. Another girl signed up for a similar camp at InsideSales the next week.

“I like coding because it’s challenging,” said Serelle Lundeen, a young camper.

Ten-year-old Adelaide Wingate said she feels “really smart” when she codes.

Martha Wingate, a mother of two campers, also saw a spark in her daughters’ interest in coding. “I could see them bubbling up with their own ideas,” she said. “They came home from camp saying ‘I want to keep coding tonight!’ even after they’d been doing it for all those hours.”

An additional goal of the camp was to give girls a safe place to learn in the company of other girls. Angela Jones, the author of the camp curriculum, explained that she started the camp because her daughters had felt overwhelmed in other camps that were dominated by boy coders. “But if girls have some background in it, then it’s a lot easier to say, ‘You know, I know how to do this, I’m good at this, I can do this.’”

“Now they have a community where they know that other girls are interested in coding, too,” says MaKenna Johnson, another member of the committee. “They’re not alone in it.”

Girls at the camp also enjoyed learning from female mentors.

“They’re seeing that they can bring their girl or feminine qualities to this,” said Wingate.

Throughout the week, the girls learned important computational thinking skills by following algorithms, experimenting with programs like code.org and Scratch, building Alka-Seltzer rockets, playing with magnetic slime, and making micro:bit bracelets.

“Computational thinking is basically taking big problems and breaking them into little steps,” explained Jones. “It helps in math, and science, and English, and especially coding-type problems. It’s a recipe for success.”

In some Utah schools, children are introduced to coding as early as elementary school. Many of the girls at the camp learned alternate ways to solve coding problems they had encountered  already in class.

Rylie Merril, a camper, said she started liking coding because her elementary school teacher encouraged the kids who were finished with their classroom assignments to pull out their computers and work on coding.

As local schools, camps, and individual families help girls become more comfortable with computer programming, hopefully more women will be able to contribute their unique skills to the workforce.

David Wingate, a computer science professor at BYU, said, “I think we need their skills and insights. I think we need their perspective. I think we need to change our culture if they don’t feel welcome. This is a step in that direction.”

InsideSales and Qualtrics partnered with BYU in sponsoring the camp.

-Lia Ludlam, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Women’s Initiative

New initiative encourages diversity in computer science field

Angela Jones’ love of computers began at an early age. She still remembers the thrill of discovering her talent for coding during elementary school when her dad brought home a computer for the first time.

Interest in coding motivated Jones to join her high school’s all-male computer club where she excelled in programming. Jones later earned a master’s degree in computer science at BYU, where she was often the only woman in her classes.

Jones now supports students as a mentor for BYU Computer Science Department’s new Women’s Initiative Committee, an outreach program which works to promote diversity through positive activities that encourage women to pursue careers in computer science.

“Our purpose is to create a culture of diversity in computer science in which everyone feels welcome and is able to thrive,” said Jen Bonnett, Women’s Initiative Coordinator.

For female students pursuing degrees in computer science, it can be feelings of isolation rather than difficulty of coursework that deter them from continuing. Creating opportunities for women to connect and find support from fellow peers within their major is key to helping them excel.

The initiative, led by Jen Bonnett and supported by the department and college leadership, focuses on providing academic resources to students. These resources include mentoring and advisement, as well as social opportunities such as the Women in Computer Science club, tech conferences, and Women in STEM events.

Michelle Bennett, sponsor of the Women in Computer Science club, shared that the initiative is about providing opportunities.

“We want to foster an environment that allows students to feel confident in their abilities, where they can get involved in opportunities that will be valuable for their long-term careers,” said Bennett.

At BYU, while only around 10 percent of computer science majors are female, those rates are on the rise. Helping more women discover the exciting possibilities computer science offers is what drives Michelle Bennett, Angela Jones, and Jen Bonnett to mentor others.

“The doors that are open to students with CS degrees are phenomenal,” said Bonnett. “Every field needs people—both men and women—who can code.”

Many students find careers in computer science to be flexible and lucrative. Programming can be done from home, and many coders set their own hours and schedules.

The initiative also hopes to inspire a younger generation of female coders at the computer science camp for 8- to 11-year-old girls that BYU will host this summer.

For Candice Lusk, a graduate student at BYU, opportunities to use computer science are exciting and diverse.

“If you can code, you can have a positive impact in any industry you want to make a difference in, whether its tech or business or fashion,” said Lusk. “Don’t let stereotypes limit you.”

–Lilian Whitney, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences