Georgetown Women Who Code: Empowerment Through Digital Literacy

February 16, 2015

8:00 am

The Washington D.C. Metro Area is full of dozens of organizations dedicated to lowering the barrier for women and minorities in tech. DCFemTech, a collective of DC & Metro area women and minority focused organizations is launching a series of interviews with women in tech leaders to highlight their group’s mission, culture and events. The goal is to help women and minorities navigate the local tech scene to find a group that best fits their needs.

Georgetown Women Who Code GUWWC
This week, we interviewed Georgetown CIO Lisa Davis and Computer Science Professor Lisa Singh, who are both Cofounders of Georgetown University Women Who Code (GUWWC).

GUWWC launched in Fall 2014 in response to many requests from women at Georgetown for coding training.
Lisa Davis: GUWWC is a group that teaches women (students, employees, and faculty in non-CS fields) computational thinking through coding. Our primary goal is to promote digital literacy among the women of Georgetown. We also believe that through the experiences they have in GUWWC that some of our student will explore careers in tech who might not have considered that as a possibility before – we’re already seeing that happening.

GUWWC hosts both in-class and online lectures and small mentoring groups to strengthen learning.
Lisa Singh: Since our primary goal is teaching, we have focused on a different model that incorporates in-class and online lectures with small mentoring groups. The women in our group have very different schedules and diverse learning styles. Of course we have the traditional lecture every 3 weeks. We generally have between 40-100 attendees. Then, to get them coding, we have problems they can work on between lectures. To provide support, we have students join mentoring groups that meet each week to work on these problems. A mentoring group is composed of a student mentor who knows how to code and three to five women learning to code. Working in a group environment can be beneficial for those who are less confident about their coding skills.

The program launched with 100 women last spring and grew to about 500 this past semester.
We’ve seen the most growth in coding abilities with the students who come to both the courses and attend mentoring sessions. We also have social events. In the fall, we had a cookie decorating party and in the spring, the student executive committee is planning additional networking and connection events outside of the course trainings. We hope these events will build a strong community of women comfortable with technology at Georgetown, and hopefully connect our students with the thriving community of DC women in tech.

The typical Member includes Georgetown students from all levels of experience with coding and computer science.
Lisa Davis & Lisa Singh: Our typical members are women who work or study at Georgetown. Beyond those two factors, they are extremely diverse – representing all ages, ethnicities, majors (or in the case of faculty and staff fields of expertise), and levels of experience with coding and computer science. Men are welcome, and we have several men who are involved. However, we do not actively recruit men. Our focus is on women. They comprise more than 60% of the students in college, but less than 20% of the degrees award in computer science are given to women. Even if we cannot convince them all to be computer science majors, we hope we can convince them of the need to be digitally literate.

Best Motivation: Seeing students begin to see the possibilities for themselves.
Lisa Davis: Both Lisa and I have enjoyed long careers in technology. I served for almost 30 years in technology leadership roles in the government prior to coming to Georgetown, and Lisa Singh has a distinguished career in computer science. We know the myriad of wonderful career opportunities that are out there for women with CS skills. Also, we know the potential that technology has to change the world in very tangible ways, and for this generation of students that’s a very important factor in their career considerations. It is so rewarding to see our students begin to see these possibilities for themselves – it’s almost like opening a whole new world of options for them.

Best Moment: Seeing members begin to weave computer science courses into their curriculum.
Lisa Singh: Every time I walk in to the classroom to give a lecture and I see women there to learn, I am thrilled. These women are not getting credit for coming. They are not computer science majors. They are women who can see the world changing in front of them. They feel that digital literacy matters even if they do not pursue a technology-related field. I am thrilled because some of these women are freshman or professors in liberal arts programs who are scared to program, but come anyways. We seem to be succeeding in creating an environment where they are comfortable and they learn. And some are now taking computer science courses – AWESOME!

GUWWC is looking to connect students to internships and opportunities in technology.
Lisa Singh: We have women with varying levels of coding ability. We are looking to connect our students with technology companies. Some are ready for more technical internships, while others are would benefit from internships in technology firms that are less technical. We’d love to start connecting more and more of our students with internships and other opportunities to really explore careers in technology. If you have internship or entry-level job opportunities, or know of organizations that do, please email us! GUWWC.Exec@georgetown.edu

To learn more about GUWWC visit their website, follow them on Twitter @GUWomenWhoCode or like their Facebook page.

 

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Stephanie is Lead Designer and co-founder of Landmark, a navigation app for walking directions based on photos of buildings and landmarks. Stephanie was a guest at Y Combinator’s prestigious Female Founders Conference and was profiled in The Washington Post. Actively involved in the DC community, she is a co-producer of the DC Tech Meetup and is actively involved in encouraging technology education and mentorship for women. Follow her on Twitter @nguyenist.

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