May 4, 2023

Two WCU Women Take on the Gender Gap in Computer Science

west chester university computer scienceOver the last two months, Jessica Arriaga and Erin Shaughnessy, WCU Honors College computer science majors, have been addressing the gender gap within the field of computer science.

Realizing the magnitude of the issue, they decided to work within the campus and local communities at the younger level to encourage more women to go into the field and stay with it. Other WCU students and West Chester Area School District elementary school children both benefitted from their outreach.

The first part of the project was to help empower women currently enrolled in the University’s computer science program by providing them with additional opportunities and support. Arriaga and Shaughnessy organized an “Introductory to Python Bootcamp” to guide their peers in using this high-level, general-purpose programming language, and worked to create a stronger support system for women in the University’s computer science program. In addition, they increased participation in the Women in Computer Science (WiCS) club, some of whose members assisted with the second part of the project.

Arriaga, a junior, and Shaughnessy, a senior, designed the second part to help younger girls become more comfortable with computer science and see a future career in technology.

They held four-week elementary school bootcamps at the Melton Community Center and a two-day bootcamp at Starkweather Elementary School, both in West Chester. Key to their success was interactive, hands-on experience: Arriaga and Shaughnessy used Lego Mindstorm Inventor Robots (funded through WCU’s Computer Science Department) as well as tablet devices with the Scratch programming language, a free, visually engaging programming language and online community where young users can create their own interactive stories, games, and animations in a fun and intuitive way. Arriaga and Shaughnessy borrowed three iPads from the Honors College while Melton and Starkweather had iPads for their students.

west chester university student with four childrenMore than 40 girls within the community, including WCU’s computer science department, learned coding, discovered and improved skills, and found like-minded individuals as well as mentors. Arriaga plans to continue and possibly expand the project next year.

This outreach was a research-based, service-learning capstone project, which is a requirement for students in the University’s Honors College. Arriaga and Shaughnessy each completed 150 hours of service.

Learn more about West Chester University's Computer Science Department

Learn more about West Chester University's Honors College



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