NJIT's Women in Computing Society Volunteers at Nearby STEM Academy for CSEDWeek

Computer science major and Women in Computing Society member Krupali Patel (right) helps a student at the East Orange STEM Academy code a music video.

“It was a woman who wrote the first code in history,” said NJIT graduate student Krupali Patel to an auditorium full of children at the East Orange STEM Academy. “There are a lot of women who’ve contributed immensely to the new ways and strategies that are now changing the world.”

National Computer Science Education Week (CSEDWeek), it turns out, is an opportune time to school students on the contributions of women in tech and increase awareness about the disparities that plague the industry.

A weeklong celebration originally conceived by the Computing in Core Coalition and held in recognition of the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, CSEDWeek highlights the ever-evolving role of computing, inspires interest in computer science and reexamines the ways in which it’s taught and presented on all grade levels.

Code.org organizes the annual campaign, which took place Dec. 7-13, 2015 and is supported by 350 partners and 100,000 educators worldwide.

At the STEM Academy, which serves students in sixth through twelfth grades in East Orange, N.J., Patel and fellow Highlander Chaitasee Pandya (who is also a Google Student Ambassador), both computer science majors and members of NJIT’s Women in Computing Society (WCS), treated the lively scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians in the making to a star-studded video featuring will.i.am and Mark Zuckerberg pontificating on the importance of computer programing.

Additionally, the two computer science advocates enlightened the students on the influence of female engineers working at popular companies, like Google, Microsoft, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Following the assembly, Patel and Pandya paid a visit to computer science teacher Barbara Froehlich’s Intro to STEM class for a little one-on-one interaction with her students as part of Code.org’s Hour of Code, a global movement that introduces coding to all ages during CSEDWeek.

“I’m trying to show my students that the “T” in STEM is not just about using the technology but how to create the technology as well,” said Froehlich, who graduated from NJIT in 2001 with a B.S. in computer science.

“I only have the freshmen for a quarter,” said Froehlich, “but in that short time, I can see the shift in their understanding and comfort level. They’re gaining their confidence with being able to code. When they first come in, they’re intimidated. By the time they leave, they say they love it.”

In case you haven’t noticed, coding has gone mainstream.

In 2014, President Obama became the first president to write a computer program.

Last year, the White House hosted a Computer Science Tech Jam to kick off CSEDWeek, which was attended by WCS president and founding member Jinisha Patel.

And right here in Newark, a flurry of NJIT coding programs has taken off.

From Art of Code, a new workforce-training program that provides 144 hours of coding instruction to unemployed Newarkers to Newark Kids Code, an educational initiative (instructed by current NJIT students) designed to introduce digital and computer technologies to disadvantaged youth, NJIT continues to help spark a long-overdue change to right the imbalance of the STEM workforce.

“It’s so important to show diversity in computer science,” insisted Froehlich. “Everybody can learn to code, and there’s communication and collaboration involved. NJIT is doing some great work with changing the perception of the industry. Having these two smart, young women visit our school demonstrates to our students that not only women—but other underrepresented minorities—are out here programming, too.”

The school visit is part of the Building Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity (BRAID) initiative to expand outreach to high school teachers and students to modify introductory computer science courses and broaden participation among women and students of color. NJIT's participation in the three-year BRAID project is managed by College of Computing Sciences professor James Geller.

By Shydale James
sjames@njit.edu