Innovative Approaches to Engage and Include Girls in Computer Science!

A 2019 #CSforALLSummit Session Summary

Nov 6, 2019 · 6 min read

By: Angela Cleveland, Program Director, NCWIT Counselors for Computing

Photo Credit: Chris Carruth

Achieving #CSforALL means conquering the gender gap in tech. At the 2019 CSforALL Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, attendees gathered to hear from national experts in gender equity about effective strategies for inviting, engaging and keeping girls and young women in the CS pathway.

Panelists included: Hau Moy Kwan, SLCC/TECHNOLOchicas, Nicki Washington, Author, Unapologetically Dope, Savita Raj, Girl Scouts of the USA, and Shalini Kesar, SUU/Aspirations in Computing.

At the start of the discussion, participants were asked to listen for strategies the panelists have employed to recruit and retain young women in computing and consider how they might adopt the same strategies, modifying them to meet the unique needs of their population.

Panelists shared their strategies for engaging young women, allies, and advocates. They also discussed their challenges, both personal as well as systemic barriers they faced. Some themes that emerged included:

  • Recognize the value of your personal story and cultural background when engaging with students while keeping in mind that a shared culture doesn’t equate to the same experience. Sharing can spark the conversation and listening to the students’ stories builds trust.
  • When listening, tune in to the students’ individual interests and intersectional identities. Learn where they find their community of support. If they don’t have one, connect them to others. Learn where they face barriers or who might not understand their interests and may need guidance to support the students.
  • Take a multi-generational and culturally-responsive approach to engagement. Our students have many spheres of influence from families, friends, educators, and others. Sometimes it can be challenging for students to advocate for themselves, and you can support them by engaging in conversation and providing information, resources, and even co-learning experiences to create a support system for the students.
  • Recognize your own bias and how your culture influences your belief system. Be mindful of the language you use and ask questions to learn more about others’ experiences.
  • Create a safe space for sharing by being vulnerable. Share your struggles and how you overcame barriers.
  • Rather than calling people out on behavior that may deter students, call them into a conversation. Ask questions about their experiences, share resources, and share with them your stories of the impact of an inclusive approach to engaging students. Take a step back and consider what may be happening culturally in that environment. Have the instructors be trained in culturally-relevant pedagogy and andragogy? Do families in the community have a belief system that their child simply needs to “study harder” to understand computing concepts? Do the students’ peers feel computer science is “boring” or not cool? While working with one individual can have an impact, think about how to create systemic change in the community. Consider who can lead this change and how to loop them into the conversation about the need to and value of implementing strategies designed to foster systemic change.
Photo Credit: Chris Carruth

At the end of the session, participants shared out the strategies they plan to utilize. We used a free crowdsourcing response platform called Mentimeter. Below is a list of the ideas.

  • Encourage girls to apply for the Aspirations Award.
  • Understand bias.
  • Be honest about the challenges girls will face.
  • Every student needs a champion.
  • BELIEVE in the students!
  • Listen to each student’s story and respond to the individual, not the group as a whole.
  • Meet parents where they are at.
  • Celebrate failure.
  • Address bias within our communities and schools.
  • Teachers extending personal invitations. Teachers often lead to girls taking CS courses.
  • Meet students and families where they are.
  • Partner with Girl Scouts.
  • Provide the space for educators and students to learn TOGETHER.
  • Address needs of first generation students with the families.
  • Create a safe space.
  • Encourage girls to confront and challenge STEM stereotypes.
  • Use storytelling with CS.
  • Talk more to PI’s about how to work in the K-12 space as guests and not experts.
  • Address Higher Ed barriers.
  • Expose students to learning they can identify with so they can see themselves in that role.
  • Give each learner space to engage.
  • Acknowledge the fear that comes with learning and teaching something new.
  • Humanize everyone by sharing both successes and failures, even those of top leaders.
  • Constantly communicate. Share your story and your barriers and HOW you were able to overcome those challenges.
  • Highlight stories that don’t emphasize people who felt math or science was “easy.”

The CSforALL community advocates for intelligently promoting gender equity in CS as it is critical to achieving a robust and fair CS Ed system. Reflect on these strategies shared by your fellow champions CS Equity. What strategies might you employ? What are you doing to foster gender equity in the CS community? Let’s keep sharing.

Continue the Conversation with Resources from NCWIT:

Bridging the Encouragement Gap in Computing

There is consensus among researchers that encouragement matters and plays a critical role in engaging more young women and girls in computing. Here are some key highlights from published research studies, and follow-up tips on practicing encouragement.

Intersectionality in Tech 101

Intersectionality is a critical and necessary concept to develop effective programs to broaden the participation of women and girls in computing. This resource provides a background and overview of the concept, in addition to key readings and resources related to women and girls of color in STEM and computing.


Enrich PK-8 Computing Education

Student influencers such as formal and informal educators and parents are eager to direct students to viable education opportunities in computing. Consider these key points and resources that can be used to integrate computing skills into existing curricula, encourage diverse participation in computing, and/or connect students to informal learning environments that emphasize hands-on experience with technology.

Top 10 Ways to Engage School Counselors as Allies in the Effort to Increase Student Access to Computer Science Education and Careers

School counselors are eager to direct students to viable education and career opportunities. Consider these key points for collaboration as you plan to meet with counselors to discuss ways their professional responsibilities align with your goals to increase student access to computing.

Top 10 Ways to Engage Underrepresented Students in Computing

These tips will help you to engage students in your computing courses and retain them in the major. These ideas and examples are drawn from theory and research conducted by social scientists who study issues related to diversity and retention in computing. Methods range from encouraging words to inclusive classroom environments.

Top 10 Ways of Recruiting High School Women into Your Computing Classes

Recruiting diverse students to computing requires that you spark their interest, build their confidence they can succeed, create a community where they feel like they belong, and help them see themselves as a “computing person.” This Top 10 list offers practices that help you recruit high school girls to your computing courses.

You Can Actively Recruit a Diverse Range of Girls into High School Computing Classes: A Workbook for High School Teachers

This workbook will help educators and influencers understand the research-based reasons why a diverse range of girls are less likely to take computing courses in high school. High school teachers are provided with actionable recommendations for creating recruiting and outreach interventions that work.


About the Author:

Angela Cleveland is the Program Director for NCWIT Counselors for Computing (, which provides professional school counselors with information and resources they can use to support ALL students as they explore computer science education and careers. She has 15 years of experience as a school counselor and received the “2017 New Jersey School Counselor of the Year” award. She is an Executive Board Member and Webmaster for the New Jersey School Counselor Association (

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