New Initiative Encourages Diversity in Computer Science Field

Angela Jones’ love of computers began at an early age. She still remembers the thrill of discovering her talent for coding during elementary school when her dad brought home a computer for the first time.

Interest in coding motivated Jones to join her high school’s all-male computer club where she excelled in programming. Jones later earned a master’s degree in computer science at BYU, where she was often the only woman in her classes.

Jones now supports students as a mentor for BYU Computer Science Department’s new Women’s Initiative Committee, an outreach program which works to promote diversity through positive activities that encourage women to pursue careers in computer science.

“Our purpose is to create a culture of diversity in computer science in which everyone feels welcome and is able to thrive,” said Jen Bonnett, Women’s Initiative Coordinator.

For female students pursuing degrees in computer science, it can be feelings of isolation rather than difficulty of coursework that deter them from continuing. Creating opportunities for women to connect and find support from fellow peers within their major is key to helping them excel.

The initiative, led by Jen Bonnett and supported by the department and college leadership, focuses on providing academic resources to students. These resources include mentoring and advisement, as well as social opportunities such as the Women in Computer Science club, tech conferences, and Women in STEM events.

Michelle Bennett, sponsor of the Women in Computer Science club, shared that the initiative is about providing opportunities.

“We want to foster an environment that allows students to feel confident in their abilities, where they can get involved in opportunities that will be valuable for their long-term careers,” said Bennett.

At BYU, while only around 10 percent of computer science majors are female, those rates are on the rise. Helping more women discover the exciting possibilities computer science offers is what drives Michelle Bennett, Angela Jones, and Jen Bonnett to mentor others.

“The doors that are open to students with CS degrees are phenomenal,” said Bonnett. “Every field needs people—both men and women—who can code.”

Many students find careers in computer science to be flexible and lucrative. Programming can be done from home, and many coders set their own hours and schedules.

The initiative also hopes to inspire a younger generation of female coders at the computer science camp for 8- to 11-year-old girls that BYU will host this summer.

For Candice Lusk, a graduate student at BYU, opportunities to use computer science are exciting and diverse.

“If you can code, you can have a positive impact in any industry you want to make a difference in, whether its tech or business or fashion,” said Lusk. “Don’t let stereotypes limit you.”

–Lilian Whitney, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

By Lilian Whitney Posted on