This past year a group called Women in Math and Computer Science (WoMaCS) was created here at Oberlin. The fields of mathematics and computer science are those which are rarely overwhelmed with women, and Oberlin’s math and computer science departments aren’t much different. There have certainly been exceptions, but, as both a math and computer science major, I often find I am one of a few women in my classes. WoMaCS was developed as a place for women in these fields to support each other and share their experiences, but it became much more than that.
Partway through the year, emails were sent out and posters were put up promoting WoMaCS’s first meeting. The group was started by girls that I didn’t know, and honestly, I was intimidated by them. The promotions didn’t really spark my interest, and I just figured I didn’t have the time. Being a part of the varsity swim team and working multiple jobs on campus, in addition to being a student, time is not something I have in spades. However, when the first meeting came around, I decided to stop in. Little did I know that on this whim, I was walking into the place where I would find the community that I didn’t even know I needed.
I am not really an outspoken person, and, as usual, during the first few meetings I found myself stuttering through my introduction and saying very little, if anything, during the rest of the meeting. In spite of this, not long after the first meetings, I found myself invested in the conversations we were having about classroom environments and community. I started helping to organize and facilitate a discussion within the math and computer science departments about how the environments and community in and out of the classrooms and computer labs and interactions with professors affect a student’s experience in those classes and their perception of success—not just among women but all students. I was able to speak to my own experiences and help others to do the same in a way that could bring about change.
In being a part of WoMaCS, I found a passion for getting young people, especially women and girls, excited about the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields; helping them find confidence in their abilities. I have taken this passion to my summer job teaching computer programming to children and teens at the Digital Media Academy (DMA) at Stanford University. DMA is a tech camp for children and teens located at different colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. My brother took a course there a few years back, and I took this summer with DMA as an opportunity to experience learning environments and teaching practices, both positive and negative, from the point of view of an instructor instead of a student. I have spoken extensively with the administrative staff, and am looking forward to future changes in curriculum to facilitate better learning and the addition of all-girls classes to encourage young women to pursue creative futures in the tech industry.
In pursuing WoMaCS, I found a community of women who are going through the same exciting and challenging experiences I am as a woman in the fields of math and computer science. Those girls that I was scared to talk to in class and that I found intimidating are now girls I call my friends. Funnily enough, when we talked about it later, it turned out they had felt the same way about me. I found friends, a support system, connections, and something I was willing to speak up about, which is what I think Oberlin is all about.