Lord Fairfax Community College is working to make computer science a more accessible field for women.
The National Center for Women & Information Technology awarded the school $10,000 in seed grant funding to launch a number of new initiatives, including summer programs for girls and women. Lord Fairfax was one of eleven schools nationwide to receive the grant funding and the only community college on the list.
The programs will be supported in part by Microsoft Research, according to Dr. Melissa Stange, who teaches computer science at the college. Stange and Adjunct Professor Dong Truong, who also teaches math at Sherrando High School in Stephens City, Va. will run the courses.
“We’re working with Microsoft Research’s social scientists to recreate our whole program to focus on women and [other minorities] in the technology field to make sure that our courses’ content is designed for them to be successful,” Stange said. “But more importantly it’s given us the opportunity to offer two what we call compute and computational thinking camps which are math and computer camps for girls that are rising freshmen in highschool and also rising freshmen into any college.”
Stange says the lack of diversity within the computer science fields is concerning.
“Primarily my classrooms are male dominant,” Stange said. “I’m happy when I see two females come into the classroom. They tend to cling together and usually, we’re usually down to one by the end of the semester. We’re actually graduating our first female in the program this year.”
She adds the marketing materials used in the field need to reflect women and minorities if the college hopes to keep them in the program.
Some of the grant funding will be used to re-designing marketing materials to show women and minorities that they can also succeed in the industry.
“We want them to be confident. And to be open-minded of the stem field,” Stange said. “It is a great opportunity for them and to do that we need to have them understand that they can be successful and that there is support for them.”