Take an old-fashioned sewing circle, add a 21st-century twist, and you’ve got the Department of Computer Science’s weekly Coding Circle.
Sponsored by the department’s Women in Computer Science (WiCS) group, Coding Circle brings together female students, a faculty mentor, chocolate, computers, salty snacks, nail polish, and occasionally even needles and thread for the purpose of camaraderie, support, and networking.
“Coding Circle offers a place and time for women computer science students to come together for support, to chat about classes, work on homework, and just have fun socializing,” says faculty advisor Joanne Selinski, a computer science associate teaching professor and the department’s director of undergraduate studies. “Our goal when we started it five or six years ago was to improve our department’s retention of the few women we had and it’s grown from there.”
“Coding Circle offers a place and time for women computer science students to come together for support, to chat about classes, work on homework, and just have fun socializing.”
Joanne Selinsky Faculty Advisor
That strategy worked. Today, women are 23 percent of the department’s majors and 41 percent of its minors. Word has gotten out that the Department of Computer Science is a great place for female students.
“Some of the people who attend are PhD students or upperclassmen, and they give us a lot of good information about internships and the things that are ahead,” says freshman Rebecca Bushko.
There’s no question that snacks are an integral part of the Coding Circle experience. On a recent Friday afternoon, students tore into miniature bags of Utz pretzels and unwrapped miniature chocolate bars and Jolly Ranchers while others plucked bottles of nail polish from a basket that Selinski plunked down mid-table.
Though the group’s name is a play on the old concept of a sewing circle, where women would come together to stitch projects for charity, Coding Circle aficionados have only taken up needle and thread a few times in the group’s history.
“Last year, the topic of learning to sew came up and a girl brought in her sewing machine so I could teach them, but we never got that far,” Selinski says. “We have done some hand mending—sewing on buttons and hemming. But that’s it.”