From Anxiety to Action

In the wake of the largest public demonstrations in U.S. history, during an extended period of diminishing participation in civic associations, we’re examining the process of getting off the sidelines and becoming the change you want to see in the world, especially in the midst of a national mental health crisis. The podcast-o-sphere has been abuzz with fascinating discussions about changing your behavior based on the world around you, such as deciding whether to march (at 09:40 and 38:34) (and sing) in D.C., watching out for the public safety of others (at 7:20), remembering to engage in self care (at 11:30), while a profusion of guides for staying engaged and taking action for the first time have been published with personalities of all types in mind, including shy, anxious, quiet, nihilist, and busy people, and careful consumers and newcomers too. Perhaps some of the most insightful pieces we’ve come across emphasized the importance of common ground, and coalition-building, a common refrain in coverage of the Women’s March on Washington (link 2, link 3), and especially sympathy.

In this issue we’ll hear from Emily Hyde (University of Michigan), about her journey translating her frustration about participating in technological conversations into her enrollment in her first programming course (and favorite undergraduate course), and her reflections about bringing inclusion to tech at the undergraduate level.

So this month, we’d like to encourage our community to include themselves in the movements that matter to them and in the words of Lilla Watson and the Aboriginal activists group, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

We hope you enjoy this issue of Inclusion.Tech, and look forward to your ideas and feedback, growing our community, and together making the world a better place.

Best,

Savannah Kunovsky, & Claire Hsu

The Other 73%

Emily Hyde (Senior at University of Michigan)

Where I go to school, only 27% of the students in the undergraduate engineering program are women. This is across all engineering programs, and the percentage of women in Computer Science is even less. As a student outside the engineering bubble, my exposure to tech is minimal. Classrooms and professors do not require proficiency in the use of computers past the level of my grandparents. So why would, and how do I, a non-engineering woman, gain exposure to computer science to see if this is even something I might be interested in pursuing?

I’m lucky that I have surrounded myself with a circle of engineer friends who keep me in check with the STEM that I learned back in high school. Most of the time, their class descriptions are way over my head, but I do my best to chime into their conversations whenever I have any knowledge that I can bring to the table (which isn’t very often). Now that I am a Senior, feeling out of the loop about an entire discipline has left me frustrated, but determined to learn something and contribute, for once, to a conversation before graduating. This motivation led me to enroll in my first programming course. Instead of taking in the notoriously difficult EECS (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) 183 course that taught C++ and a bit of Python, I opted for a course specifically on Python, through our School of Information.

feeling out of the loop about an entire discipline has left me frustrated, but determined to learn something and contribute, for once, to a conversation before graduating. This motivation led me to enroll in my first programming course.

I learned a lot by making that choice.

  1. There are engineers, and there are non-engineers. By not taking the quintessential intro to programming class, I was a non-engineer, and labeled perhaps more so than my Anthropology major labeled me as a non-engineer.
  2. I would learn the same, if not more, from this class than I would from the other course. Rather than learning a base of programming for computer scientists, I learned practical coding skills. After all, my course was titled ‘Programs, Information, People’.
  3. There are a lot of non-engineers learning to code, and we are more diverse than the 23% of women in the entirety of the College of Engineering. I’d say close to half of my class was populated by women, and there were even some minorities, and other majors represented in the class. This has facilitated a great learning environment, and is far more diverse than classes in our engineering school.

I have female friends who gave the traditional engineering computer science route a try, and unfortunately not many of them were happy with that experience. For those friends, sometimes being the only girl in a crazy, unsupportive environment with outrageous expectations just wasn’t worth it for them when they had other skills and interests they would rather pursue. I, not once, had any of these negative experiences. I had graduate students and instructional assistants of all different racial and gender backgrounds. I had professors who were doing research on the best ways to teach computer science. I had peers who were taking the class for fun as well as for requirements, who were business students, computer science students, and psychology students. Everybody came wanting to learn to code, and I had an instructional team who wanted to teach us. I left this course with a desire to learn more and a strong foundation. This is in contrast to the introductory programming courses whose goal is to ‘weed out’ the weak from becoming Computer Science majors. Why is the School of Information course so diverse and engaging, but the engineering course so… not?

Maybe the issue is that there is a disconnect between being a computer science major and teaching students to code. There is an expectation that if you are taking the engineering course, you are trying to be a computer science engineer, and they test for that. This leaves no room for students who simply want to see what computer science is all about. Not once before this class would I have ever thought I would use computer science in my life, and now I can’t believe how many doors even this minimal knowledge has opened for me. Why is it that the traditional engineering program has to have such an unaccepting environment?

My personal issue with all of this is I was never even encouraged to give it a try. Not in middle school, not in high school, and definitely not in college. I wasn’t an engineer, it wasn’t my business. As it turns out, I’m pretty good at Python, and I enjoy it more than any other subject I have taken in college. It’s too bad no one pushed me to give it a shot earlier. It’s too bad I had to get so frustrated from being out of the loop that I took the class out of spite.

Maybe we need more engineers who take a stand and who aren’t willing to put up with the unnecessary stress that is prerequisite to engineering degree. Maybe then we would have a more inclusive community with more collaborative and interdisciplinary learning that so many engineering schools preach about and are starving for. Maybe we should have more inclusion in tech.

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