Friday, June 22, 2018

Closing the Gender Gap in Computer Science

Two Silicon Valley schools are making a push to increase the numbers of women in STEM careers--a way to curb the gender gap that persists in the tech and science sectors. Summit Public Schools are proving that the future of tech looks bright…and female.

In San Jose, Summit Rainier student Mindy became obsessed with computer science and coding in middle school, when an after-school experience evolved into a hobby and then a passion. Now she wants it to be a career. To prepare for that future, Mindy enrolled in coding classes at Summit Rainier and took on self-paced computer science studies. As a junior, Mindy took four Advanced Placement (AP) exams, earning a top score on all of them including the notoriously rigorous Computer Science A exam for which Mindy earned a 5, the highest score possible. Just 29 percent of statewide Computer Science A test takers scored 5s, a quarter of whom were women.

Mindy’s experience in computer science is not an anomaly. In nearby Sunnyvale, Calif., female students at Summit Denali have learned valuable STEM skills through one of several student clubs. Recently, a group of female students participated in and won a 12-hour hackathon--a coding competition designed to promote women in tech called XXHacks that was held at the Symantec global headquarters and included students from many Bay Area public schools. The Denali team won first place for using their computer science skills to collaborate on an educational interactive game.

These female high schoolers embody what’s possible through a school culture that supports students to find purpose and give back to their community by engaging in projects that have real, lasting impact in possible future career paths. A recent report found students are more likely to persevere through tedious projects if they have a broader social or communal purpose.

These students have found that purpose in computer science thanks to opportunities at their schools. Overseen by teacher Matthew Hesby, who leads courses on computer science across Summit’s Bay Area schools, students are able to enroll in his courses and build video games, engage in coding exercises, create websites, learn the fundamentals of computer programming, and more. Several alumni from his classes are currently pursuing STEM degrees as college students and credit Hesby’s classes with igniting their passion for the field.

“My first thought in developing my course curriculum is how to make it more accessible for all of my students,” said Hesby. “I try to create an intentionally open, welcoming and collaborative classroom environment so that my students begin to see programming as a more interactive, dynamic field.”

Summit’s focus on personalized learning and real-world experiences outside the classroom led Diep to take her passion for computer science back to her East San Jose community, where she has interned with the San Jose Library’s Maker[Space]Ship to promote access to tech with a particular emphasis on computer science – to all kids regardless of socioeconomic status. Her experiences at Summit Public Schools have solidified her interest in pursuing a career in the field – she will attend the University of Southern California in the fall and plans on majoring in computer science.

“I feel fortunate I had the opportunity to pursue my passion as part of my school work. I intend to continue my STEM studies at the college level and beyond,” said Mindy. “I want to apply my skills and experiences in and out of the classroom to be a champion for equitable access and exposure to computer science for kids everywhere.”

For more information about Summit Public Schools and its Expeditions program, visit

How did you get interested in STEM/computer science and did you have similar opportunities while in high school? Share in the comments below.

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