What comes to mind when you think of computer science? Kasey Chuang and Gayatri Subramaniam, community outreach co-chairs of UCI’s Women in Information and Computer Sciences (WICS) organization, want to make sure young girls are aware of all the different opportunities available through this field of study. “When a person says, ‘computer science,’ a lot of people think it’s all math and programing,” they say, “but it’s so much more than that!”
That’s why these two computer science majors are kicking off a new WICS mentorship program on April 3, 2021, working in collaboration with Cypress College’s CS32 program. The program allows students to dual-enroll in college courses while still attending high school.
“We are working with the 14 female-identifying students from their current CS32 cohort, who are all freshmen in high school taking college courses,” says Subramanian. “The goal of the program is to provide these young girls with a mentor and a friend who can guide and inspire them to explore the tech field and help them grow professionally.”
The WICS mentors will be female-identifying students studying computer science or informatics in UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS). Throughout the spring quarter, WICS will host five biweekly sessions, starting with the April 3 kickoff meeting — where mentors and mentees can mingle and get to know each other. After that, the sessions will be split into two-hour sessions: one hour of learning about an area of the tech field, and one hour of professional development activities with a mentor.
“What motivated us to start this mentorship program was the fact that many girls are not aware of all the different opportunities in the tech field,” says Chuang. “We want to expose them to other areas such as cybersecurity, UI/UX, artificial intelligence, graphic design and more.”
Rather than going into too much technical depth, the sessions will help students explore the many different areas associated with computer science. “We don’t want this to be an intimidating and overly technical experience,” says Submramanian. “We’d rather cover more topics in less depth, with the goal of sparking an interest in young women that might lead them to pursue computer science in college.”
Encouraging young women and other underrepresented groups to explore opportunities in STEM is an important part of the WICS organization. Through its community outreach efforts, WICS has hosted a variety of workshops for middle school girls and led various programs for K-12 and college students.
“Since this is our first time holding this type of program,” says Chuang, “we’ll be adjusting to what works best as we go!”
— Shani Murray