A free week-long camp dedicated to generating interest in computer science and technology among Texas high school girls is in its 10th year of operation.
The First Bytes summer camp is a program intended to dismiss myths about computer science and close the gender gap in math and science fields.
“It was an idea of two [UT] professors here who wanted to do some kind of outreach program for women because of the under-representation of women in this field,” said Mary Esther Middleton, First Bytes program coordinator. By allowing high school girls to interact with women their own age and immerse themselves in computer science activities, the girls are able to get a taste of what the UT computer science department has to offer, Middleton said.
“We do get a good number of them coming into the computer science department. It varies from year to year but the idea is to expose them to as much computer science technical details as we can and encourage them to pursue math and science fields... we want to make them feel like they have some support,” Middleton said.
First Bytes summer campers Denise Boi and Michelle Chlou said the camp has cultivated their interest in making computer science a degree they plan on pursuing at UT.
Brianna Connelly, computer science sophomore and president of Women in Computer Sciences, said the camp is a huge step in the right direction towards helping women enter the computer science field.
“I think this is a great program. There’s so much to learn from all the lessons and projects,” Connelly said. “More importantly, I think it shatters what a lot of these girls think of as the stereotypical computer science image and shows them that there’s a lot of people who want to see them succeed.”
Camp coordinator Middleton said one of her former campers eventually attended UT, received a degree in computer science and is now back at the camp as a presenter for Google.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 18.2 percent of women in the U.S. were represented in the undergraduate computer science major.
Connelly said she believes women are hesitant to go into computer science because of the intimidation and perception that comes along.
“A lot of girls don’t become interested in computer science until they feel like it’s too late to start. They feel like because they haven’t been writing code since they were in middle school, they have too much to catch up on,” Connelly said. “This couldn’t be further from the truth. Computer science is more about being able to adapt and learn things than it is about memorization.”
She said closing the gender gap requires changing the perception that computer science is an anti-social and masculine occupation.
“I think people have to stop seeing computer science as some nerd programming alone in a basement,” Connelly said. “Women tend to gravitate toward occupations that have more human interaction. In reality, computer science is very social. There are tons of group projects in college and it’s even more collaborative once you enter the industry.”