University of Southern Indiana

Come to the Geek Side

by John Michael O'Leary

The future of computer programming gleams with opportunity. According to the US Department of Labor, by 2026 occupations in computer and information technology will have grown by twice the national average for all careers over the previous decade. Most such opportunities go to men, but a movement to close the gender gap is gaining steam. USI is leading local efforts with Dr. Srishti Srivastava, assistant professor of computer science, as project champion.

Srivastava started Women in Computing and Women in Computer Science while working on post-graduate studies at Mississippi State University. “Few women were studying in those areas, and even fewer were in the upper classes,” she says. “I noticed the same thing when I joined the Romain College of Business faculty in 2017.”

Taking another look at the problem, she made an important discovery. “It happens in middle school, that girls get the idea computer science is for boys,” says Srivastava. “They need to know that computer science is for everyone—that if you are creative and like to solve problems, you can be a good fit for this innovative field.”

Srivastava’s research led her to Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit founded in 2012 to help close the gender gap in computing science. With seed funding from the Romain College of Business and the Pott College of Science, Engineering, and Education, Srivastava and a team of colleagues at USI worked with the Southwest Indiana STEM Resource Center to start a local chapter. Now in its second year, the program has, to date, graduated 32 middle-school girls via two, nine-week courses. Additional coordinators of the program are Allison Grabert, Director of the Southwest Indiana STEM Resource Center, and Paige Walling, SwiSTEM Services Coordinator.

“The College provides classroom space, and Girls Who Code provides the instructional materials, which I adapt for use,” says Srivastava. “Students learn coding concepts during the first four weeks, the next five weeks they work in groups on projects of their own choosing.”

The program’s popularity is spawning a spin-off, Coding for Kids, which provides a learning opportunity for middle-school boys.

“We are going to expand the number of classroom hours and start working with high school students,” says Srivastava. “We’re building a pipeline, regardless of gender, so students are well-prepared to enter this field of study.”

Girls Who Code club

Dr. Srishti Srivastara celebrates with students completing their projects in Girls Who Code as they display T-shirts marking their achievement.

Dragon quest screen

Students taking part in the 2019 session of Girls Who Code studied Python, a high-level programming language, with the help of an online tutorial platform called Codester. Among the projects they worked on were games involving creatures with special powers and an interactive, illustrated storybook. Above: screen shot from a student-developed dragon-quest game.

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