Innovative Workshop Conducted by Colorado State Introduces Middle School Girls to the Science of Computers

For the next two weeks, 20 girls from the local Poudre School District will be learning to speak several new languages and, in the process, enhance their self-esteem and have fun. Best of all, the class is free.

From June 18-29, Colorado State University is conducting a unique and innovative workshop for girls who will be entering the 7th, 8th and 9th grades in the fall. "An Introduction to Computer Science" runs from 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and offers lectures and presentations by Colorado State faculty and guest speakers. Each girl will gain hands-on experience with HTML, JavaScript, Unix and the basics of creating Web pages.

"We want to reach girls at an age when they are still curious and willing to explore something new and different with a lot of enthusiasm," said Sandra Schleiffers, a lecturer with the Computer Science Department. "At a later age, they become self-conscious, especially in a mixed-gender class, and are less likely to acknowledge that they are smart, interested and adept at a subject."

Schleiffers and her colleagues, Assistant Professor Carolyn Schauble and Professor Yashwant Malaiya, worked with Dr. Coreen Boeding, a consulting guidance counselor and psychologist with Bennett Elementary School in Fort Collins, to assess appropriate age groups and to help get the word out. Since class size is limited, they looked for students who would be genuinely interested and had some knowledge of the topic.

"It is extremely important for girls to know that they have more options than the stereotypical careers open to women," Boeding said. "Girls often don’t think of themselves as being good in math or the sciences. They see these studies as male pursuits. So, we want to reach them early in their identity development to encourage their interest and skill in these areas."

Malaiya, Schleiffers and Schauble approached the Colorado Institute of Technology for a grant to fund the workshop, with Colorado State providing the facility and the expertise. This is a one time grant, but the three hope that, with the success of this workshop, funding will be available again next year.

The class is conducted in the Hewlett Packard classroom in the computer science department. In addition to Schleiffers and Schauble, the students will get help from two graduate assistants and Ruth Schauble, a recent high school graduate.