September 9, 2015

Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series that will spotlight student organizations within the LSU College of Engineering.

This fall marks Women in Computer Science’s (WICS) first semester as an official student organization on campus. However, the 50-member organization got the ball rolling with a few programs last spring.

“We actually held our first socials, as well as started tutoring, last semester,” said Alexandra Willis, a computer science senior who serves as the group’s president. “There was also our first professional event, a panel and lunch where industry professionals and students got to meet and network.”

WICS divides its programming into three thrusts: social, professional and academic.

They host member-exclusive tutoring sessions every Friday that cater to those interested in help with computer science coursework. In anticipation of the Career Expo, they hosted a resume-building program on Sept. 3, one of the many professional workshops they have planned for the semester.

Occasionally, WICS teams up for programming with LSU’s student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Their joint programming effort will take members to local haunted house, The 13th Gate, later this semester.

Willis said WICS’s big programming event of the semester will be a “Game Jam” held Nov. 6-8 in LSU’s Digital Media Center.

“A Game Jam is 48-hour overnight event where people get together on teams and make video games, basically,” she explained. “It’s really intense, it’s really fun, and it’s a really great way for people to get experience making video games that may have not had that opportunity.”

While the organization mainly targets high school and college students, the event is open to everyone. “Even boys, too,” Willis added with a laugh.

WICS also hosts a Big Sister-Little Sister program within its internal structure that directly supports the organization’s mission to “create a community for women in computer science at LSU socially, academically and professionally.”

The Big Sister-Little Sister program is an effort to better organize the mentorship relationships that happen naturally with girls in computer science.

“Basically, we match up older computer science girls with younger ones based on their interests,” Willis said. “From there, we host social events for the program, but its really up to the big and little to study together, encourage each other to attend WICS events or even hang out together and form that relationship.”

Willis explained both she and each of the members knew that the college needed a more targeted mentorship effort for women in computer science.

“This organization is something that I and the other officers had wanted to do independently for a long time, but we just didn’t really know of other girls with the same drive to want to put this together,” Willis said.

That was until each of them met Alena McDuff, the coordinator of Undergraduate Initiatives who is the current advisor for WICS.

“Alena was the one who brought us all together and said ‘Hey, let’s start this mentorship program for girls in CS,’ and that’s when everything grew into this organization,” Willis said.

Willis explained that girls who are starting to study computer science at LSU are much less likely to actually know other people coming into the major. Since there are fewer women who study computer science, they’re also less likely to have their friends in the major with them. This isolation continues the further each student gets into her studies, she said.

“Girls are much more likely to feel isolated because they are often the only girl in the classroom,” she said. “WICS is trying to help bridge that gap.”

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For more information or to have your student organization featured in the series, please contact communications assistant M.B. Humphrey at 225-578-5660 or marissah@lsu.edu.



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