By Milena Gonzalez ’20

Computer Science

Nationwide, there continues to be a big push to increase diversity in STEM disciplines, including computer science, which struggles the most with equal representation. In fact, Google’s diversity report in 2015 showed that only 3% of their software engineers were African American or Hispanic. This trend holds true throughout the rest of the software industry.

To combat this challenge, many companies have started sponsoring programs such as Girls Who Code and Code2040, along with adding internal employee resource groups to ensure employees are comfortable in the workplace. While there is a plethora of programs available specifically dedicated to the inclusion of minorities in tech in Silicon Valley, there is more work to do.

In 2017, after seeing an opportunity to address educational disparities by leveraging the wealth of knowledge at Rensselaer, a group of fellow students and I started a club called coding&&community to increase access to computer science education for local kids. The club reaches students in grades 7-12 who participate in New York state’s Science and Technology Entry Program each weekend, as well as kids from area middle and high schools.

Through weekly computer science lessons held on our campus, hackathons, and other workshops throughout the year, we teach students to create interactive Python games; utilize advanced frameworks and APIs; build dynamic websites with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript; and explore the possibilities of Arduino. In addition to technical abilities, our programs build students’ communication skills, as they must regularly articulate their work and ideas to fellow students and teammates through presentations.

As a club, our goal is not solely to push students to pursue a career in computer science, but rather to introduce them to a possible career path and encourage them to follow it if they are passionate about it. However, regardless of the career path they choose, all students can benefit from exposure to computer science. By being exposed to the critical thinking required for programming, young students will be more confident tackling similar problems throughout the course of their academic careers. The undergraduate computer science students who are able to grasp new concepts and apply them have usually been exposed to similar material before coming to college. This exposure positions them for success in their college courses, and we hope our students can benefit from our lessons in a similar way.

Currently we work with 10 to 20 kids every weekend and up to 80 local students at our one-day events. We plan to reach even more students at our weekly lessons and events but our ability to do so depends on having enough laptops to teach them. Through the generous support of sponsors such as Twitter, Microsoft, General Electric, and Rivivn, we have been able to introduce computer science and, in many cases, spark a new passion in over 350 kids. For more information on our club including how you can get involved and upcoming events, visit