This semester, some of Yale’s youngest coders are cooking up projects featuring volleyball, virtual pianos and the planet Venus.
SheCode, a program established last fall by Joyce Chen ’16 and Erika Hairston ’18, teaches the fundamentals of coding to middle and high school girls from the Elm City, enabling these students to create websites, games and designs. The program, which features three sessions each semester that are two hours long apiece, will engage students in programming languages like Scratch and Python through lectures and hands-on activities. In this semester’s first session, held last Saturday, roughly two dozen participants learned the basics of Python and brainstormed ideas for projects they will complete over the course of the spring. SheCode aims to empower local, young female coders in what Chen and Hairston describe as a male-dominated field, organizers said.
“Imagine hearing about computer science when you’re that young,” Hairston said. “That’s why SheCode is so awesome. These seventh through 11th grade girls can be with each other and realize that they are at the same level.”
Chen, an economics major, said the program began out of a shared belief between her and Hairston regarding the importance of teaching female students how to program, given that neither woman had similar support networks for computer science as they grew up. The program is funded by the University’s Amy Rossborough Fellowship, which targets projects that benefit women in New Haven or have a feminist mission.
Ten Yale undergraduate teaching assistants, all but one of whom are female, also work on the program, Hairston said.
These TAs, undergraduates who study a broad range of subjects at Yale, serve as role models for the participants due to their diverse backgrounds, said Hairston, who is a computer science major.
“It’s nice to give examples of living, breathing females who code,” Chen said.
Nick Friedlander ’17, the only male TA for SheCode this semester, said it is important for male-bodied individuals to demonstrate their support for female-bodied individuals in STEM fields.
While the students this semester have varying degrees of familiarity with programming, all participants expressed a desire to learn how to code, Friedlander added.
“It’s that point in time where everyone’s trying to figure themselves out, what they like to do, and how they’ll fit into the world,” he said.
Hairston said she enjoyed seeing students use their imaginations to create significantly different projects from their peers despite learning the same set of coding tools and objectives.
Chen added that though all SheCode participants used Scratch to build mazes for a final project last semester, each student approached the task differently, with some creating unique elements such as a teleportation device within the maze.
Thirty to 40 girls attended each session last fall, according to Chen. This semester, SheCode organizers anticipate 20 to 30 students, with about 75 percent of spring students returning from the fall session. Because this semester’s session of SheCode teaches Python — generally considered a more challenging language than Scratch — organizers sought out previous participants or students who already have some programming experience.
Chen and Hairston aim to expand the program in future years with new coding languages, more sessions and students from a wider range of Elm City schools. Currently, participants are recruited from the University’s Pathways to Science for local students interested in STEM, Chen said. She added that collaborating with Pathways is beneficial for measuring SheCode’s success because the Pathways to Science program tracks students in a database until their college graduation.
“Five years down the line, we can see how girls [in the program] have increased interest [in STEM] — hopefully in computer science,” Chen said.
19 percent of Yale’s computer science majors are female.