USF graduate student Sri Achutan guides high schoolers through lessons,
as part of a weeklong summer course meant to raise womens' interest in
As freshman Lauren Chinn begins classes at the University of San
Francisco, she is already familiar with her major in computer science,
thanks to a USF-sponsored program aimed at female high school students.
many participants, Chinn hadn’t taken a computer science class before
starting the program last year. Yet, she was intrigued by the
opportunity to learn more about the topic before starting college.
thought, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do. I don’t know much about
computers, but we’ll see,’” Chinn said. “It ended up being so much fun.”
precisely the response Sami Rollins hopes the program elicits. An
assistant professor of computer science, Rollins organized the weeklong
program, which draws rising juniors and seniors from high schools
across the Bay Area and exposes them to
a field many women never
consider. The program, Rollins said, is USF’s way of responding to the
growing concern about a lack of women in the computer science field.
According to the Computing Research Association, only 12 percent of
bachelor’s degrees in computer science and computer engineering were
awarded to women in 2007.
“The lack of women in computer science
is a huge issue these days,” Rollins said. “The idea (behind the
program) is to try and get students who might not otherwise be
interested to be interested in computer science.”
the dean’s office of the College of Arts and Sciences, the program drew
19 students from across the Bay Area this summer. Not all will end up
at USF or in computer science like Chinn, but they’ll have more of an
understanding of an increasingly important field.
Other than a
$20 application fee, the program is free for students. No computer
experience is necessary – students simply must be interested in
learning about the topic. Not only did this year’s program emphasize
hands-on activities such as taking apart and rebuilding computers, but
it also featured talks by prominent women in the field of computer
science. In addition, the students spent a day on a field trip to Sun
Microsystems’ headquarters in Santa Clara.
“I really tried to
focus on things they wouldn’t have done if they had taken a computer
science class in high school,” Rollins said.
programming handheld sensors that can pick up changes in temperature
and movement. Sensor networking, as it’s called, is a very hot area of
computer science right now, Rollins said. For the students, however,
working with the sensors was more about having the chance to see the
effects of their programming with buttons lighting up in response to
One of Rollins’ primary goals for the program
was to clear up any lingering stereotypes about computer science. She
recalled the words of one speaker who told the students: “I don’t sit
in a basement all day and write computer programs.” Rollins said many
students were intrigued to learn the role computer science plays in
different fields, including climate change. Without computer
scientists, for example, it would be impossible to track data on
environmental impacts and carbon footprints.
The potential for
the course is limitless, Rollins said. In the future, she may try to
reach girls at an even younger age and work in conjunction with high
Even without those expansions, the program is
having an impact on students like Chinn, who decided to take a computer
science class at her high school because of her experience in USF’s
program. She acknowledges that without the program, she would not have
considered studying computer science nor would she have applied to USF.