Success in Computer Science Education: Bridging Gender and Racial Gaps

by Servane Demol | June 21, 2017

Servane Demol @ServaneDemol, founder of Code for Fun, a Fremont-based organization, partners with the Ravenswood City School District to teach computer science to second- to eighth-graders (roughly 1,400 students).She advocates for gender and racial diversity in CS classrooms.

This past May I had the opportunity to attend CrossRoads, the third annual thought leadership conference sponsored by Infosys Foundation USA. Over the course of 3 days, a group of 160 individuals from various organizations traveled to San Francisco where they focused on increasing access to high quality education in Computer Science (CS), coding and Making, with a particular focus on equity and inclusion.

Dan Garcia, who teaches CS at UC Berkeley, was one of the attendees and speakers at CrossRoads. He developed CS curricula, Beauty and Joy of Computing (BJC), chosen as one of the AP Computer Science Principles (AP CSP) pilot courses and also taught at UC Berkeley as CS10. During the networking time we talked about gender diversity in the classroom. He shared with me that 60% of his Spring 2017 CS10 class were women (out of 150 students)! This shattered the course’s previous record for diversity -- which is amazing! Clearly, progress is being made to bring more gender diversity to CS classrooms. But it has not always been this way.

Originally born in France, my early love of math and technology led me to attend and graduate from an engineering school. With hopes to work at a great company, I moved to the US. I was fortunate to join a number of successful startups, completing my most recent professional experience at Facebook.

Yet throughout my career, I have been puzzled by the lack of diversity found in the tech world. I often found myself as the token female software engineer on the team surrounded by male colleagues who had a limited understanding about the real struggles women face to balance both work and family. I also found it surprising to learn the number of female college graduates in computer science declined in the last 10 years. Paradoxically, dozens of tech companies have emerged to reshape our world along with creating thousands of new jobs that require computer science training.

Observing this gender imbalance first-hand in the work place, I became inspired to give back to my community and combine my love of computer science and passion for teaching. About three years ago, I founded Code for Fun, a non-profit organization, based in Fremont, CA which focuses on teaching computer science to students (ages 5-15). Code for Fun is designed to bridge gender and racial gaps and encourage participating students to consider academic and career paths in engineering.

Since launching Code for Fun, our enrichment programs have enjoyed success. We now offer our educational services to school districts to reach a broader, more diverse audience. We have had the privilege to work with schools in the Ravenswood school district where we feel our impact is at its highest because we can focus better on the needs of each class and tailor our services to those needs.

We refer to our students in the program as creators who are teaching their computers how to think. It’s knowing how to think about a problem and solve it in a way to teach the computer to solve problems. Not only do we teach computer science to a large number of underserved students who happen to live in Silicon Valley, but also offer lesson plans and workshops to teachers so they can incorporate computer science in their classrooms.