Getting Girls into Computer Science

The Maryland Cybersecurity Center Hosts a Cybersecurity Awareness Workshop.
By Alex BenDebba

On Saturday, February 28th, the Maryland Cybersecurity Center hosted the 5th Cybersecurity Awareness Workshop.  The event is an interactive learning and mentoring experience for middle school girls.  This year, 70 girls learned about internet privacy, code breaking, and even lock picking, all to give them more confidence about the internet and technology in general.

The girls were led through the various activities by undergrad volunteers, many of whom were female STEM majors.  Some of the volunteers worked the event because they needed volunteer hours, while others, like freshman Computer Science major Kaman Phamdo just enjoy volunteering.

After going through the different workshop activities, the girls created posters to summarize what they learned and presented to their parents.  The girls all went home with information about internet privacy and code breaking to share with friends and other family members.

Although the advertised goal for the workshop is to increase confidence and understanding of the internet and technology, it's also about encouraging girls at a pivotal age to get into science.  Computer science in particular.  “It is never too early to start learning how to use computers safely. We hope that after attending this workshop, girls will feel more comfortable using technology and they will consider pursuing courses of study in STEM fields,” said Ashlyn Vander Woude, Graduate Assistant for Education at the Maryland Cybersecurity Center. “This workshop provides a unique opportunity for these girls to interact with highly motivated and skilled undergraduate mentors that are excited to share their knowledge about this field.”

Middle school is the time when interest in science and technology drops off for girls compared to boys.  In 4th grade, 66% of girls and 68% of boys are interested in STEM.  But by 8th grade, boys are twice as interested in STEM as girls are.  By high school, only 14% of girls are still interested.  And Computer Science is the worst offender when it comes to gender discrepancy.  Here at the University of Maryland, women make up 47% of the student population but only 16% of the Computer Science department.  And across the nation, despite taking home 57% of all bachelor’s degrees, women only make up for 20% of all Computer Science B.S. degrees.  

As a volunteer, I got the chance to talk to many of the girls and quite a few enjoyed math and science, and enjoyed all the activities at the workshop.  Through workshops and activities like this, we hope to encourage their interest and stay open to the idea of Computer Science down the line.

The Department welcomes comments, suggestions and corrections.  Send email to editor [-at-] cs [dot] umd [dot] edu.