New members of Hunter’s Women in Computer Science Club eat pizza and chat. Photo by Erin Williams.
Women are still very much a minority in computer sciences, and as universities struggle to encourage more to go into the field, one Hunter club aims to increase the number of women pursuing technology careers.
“There aren’t enough women in computer science, and also a lot of women who do go into computer science end up dropping,” said Rivka Ligier, 20, one of the four founders of Hunter’s Women in Computer Science (WiCS). She started the club because she was the only woman in one of her classes. “I’ve had classes where it’s 10 kids, but there’s always two, three girls. It’s not like I have a problem with guys, but sometimes it’s nice to have a girl who I can talk to.”
Nationwide, women make up about 16 percent of undergraduate computer science majors, according to ComputerScience.org. Even with Hunter’s 65 percent female gender distribution, only six women graduated from the computer science program in 2015, while 42 men did, according to MatchCollege. According to Joseph Driscoll, assistant to the chair at the department of computer science, about 500 students are computer science majors and only 18% of them are women, which is very close to the national average.
Over 20 female students attended the club’s first meeting, the majority of whom were Computer Science majors. At the event, each person shared their major and what they hoped to gain from the club.
“I hope to meet other women in Computer Science that I probably already share classes with and never had the proper setting to speak to them,” said Yasmeen Hassan, 22. “I also hope to gain from this club a chance to create a network of women, who are pursuing the same degree and can relate to the struggles of pursuing a major as a minority.”
Lieger and co-founder Pravindi Herath noticed the predominantly male computer science Facebook groups and made a decision. “We need to start a club for women to focus on portfolios and getting internships together and doing hackathons – basically helping each other improve and get to the top,” Lieger said.
The club, which meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in HN 1000J, plans to go to hackathons like hackNY and HackNYU, set up member-taught coding workshops, solve algorithms and discuss portfolios and future activities.
“It sounds like a good idea,” said Raffi Khatchadourian, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and the CUNY Graduate Center. Khatchadourian also works with the National Center for Women & Information Technology as part of the Committee on Women in Computer Science at Hunter College on recruiting and retaining women students in the Computer Science Department. “I think we need more diversity in our field, and with the job landscape changing it would be great to get different kinds of people involved in technology from different walks of life, cultures, environments.”
Local events, hackathons, classes, opportunities, programming, and resources are announced on both the club’s Facebook page (Hunter Women in Computer Science) and Slack channel (Hunter Women in CS). “It’s a great way to know about different opportunities and events that’s occurring,” said Susan Lei, 21. “It also provides a platform to celebrate female leaders and successes.”
Closing the gender gap won’t be easy, but this group seems confident in their problem-solving skills.
“Growing female computer scientists is a real issue at the moment,” said Susan L. Epstein, professor of computer science. “I really believe that when women see other women doing AI they believe that they can too.”