Khoury College professors offer free coding workshops to the community in broader diversity efforts 


Deanna Schwartz

The workshops are held in West Village H.

Deanna Schwartz, campus editor

In Northeastern’s Khoury College of Computer Sciences, Dean Carla Brodley has taken on a mission to create a 50-50 gender balance of students by 2021. Khoury College is working toward gender equity through interdisciplinary opportunities, fundamental classes and supporting diversity outside of the classroom. Since 2009, Khoury College has seen a 15 percent increase in female computer science undergraduate students, according to its website.

Only 18 percent of all undergraduate computer science degrees are earned by women, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. In addition to increasing diversity within the university, Khoury College professors strive to fill the national computer science gender gap through programs such as the Women’s Community of Code

The Women’s Community of Code is a program run by Northeastern Professors Laney Strange and Ben Hescott that offers free coding workshops for girls and women in the community.  

Strange and Hescott began hosting the Women’s Community of Code workshops in 2017, when Strange was a professor at Tufts University. 

“The idea behind Women’s Community of Code is that we want to get more women into computer science. There’s not enough of us, and we would like to change that,” Strange said. “The idea is to give them a chance to try out some coding in an environment that’s supportive and really accessible.”

They host workshops for girls aged 10 to 16, as well as programs for adult women. All of the workshops are beginner-friendly, and their definition of “women” is inclusive of anyone who identifies as a woman or girl in any way. 

At their workshop Saturday afternoon for adult women, almost 40 participants and volunteers of all ages filled a room in West Village H. Stationed at computers around the room, each participant focused intently on the project at hand: using Java to modify an image of Fenway Park.

Wendy Moises, a merchandise planning manager for Converse, came from Salem, Mass. to attend the workshop. This was the first workshop she attended, but she said she hopes to attend another in the future. 

“I’ve been interested in learning how to code for a little while,” Moises said.  “I saw this through Facebook, and it was really exciting that it was free and supports women who want to learn and how [to learn]”.

Charlene Kelly, a marketing director from Lexington, Mass., came to the workshop to learn more about code and get involved. Kelly said she enjoyed the workshop’s non-competitive and supportive atmosphere. 

“I want to learn coding and get involved in the community to see what resources are available … how to connect with people and learn from them and they can learn from you,” Kelly said.  

The workshops are typically broken up into two coding challenges, and sometimes feature a guest speaker and a hands-on activity. 

The workshop’s location on Northeastern’s campus also attracted members of the local community. Participant Michelle Tailby said she lives across the street from the West Village area.

“I always wanted to know more about computers. I love computers. I know a lot of people who code, my father does some coding and I’m always interested in learning more,” said Tailby, who works as a pharmacist. Tailby said she really likes the program and plans on coming to another workshop in the future.

Strange said she finds running the program to be a rewarding experience.

“Sometimes we’ll get people in here who are not super confident with computers in general, nevermind with coding, and when they get a chance to actually do some code and they see it work … and have someone have that moment who started out feeling not super confident,” Strange said. “That’s really exciting.”

Another aspect of the workshops that is rewarding, Strange said, is seeing the volunteers grow from the experience. Saturday’s workshop had an almost one-to-one volunteer-to-participant ratio. The volunteers are all Northeastern students — many in the Align master’s degree program, which provides students with no computer science experience a path to a computer science graduate degree. 

“When they come to volunteer at a thing like this, they get a chance to realize they know more than they thought they did because they’re answering questions they can answer and helping people who are totally new, and it gives them a chance to have a little perspective,” Strange said.

Isabella Avila, a second-year graduate student in the Align program, began volunteering at the workshops after taking Strange’s class. 

“I love the work they do about making other women love to code and decreasing the gap of men versus women in code,” Avila said. “It’s really basic, but it gives you a good glimpse of what coding is. So if you want to pursue it, then this is a very good place to start.”

Natalia Gomes, a first-year graduate student in the Align program, said she came to volunteer because she wanted to help women with a similar amount of experience. 

“I wanted to help women like myself that did not have any background in computer science. I’m also learning, so I wanted to help them with learning as well,” Gomes said. “If I don’t understand something I can ask for help, and then I can teach it to others.” 

Jennie Xu, a data analytics student in the College of Professional Studies, said the workshop taught her that coding does not have to be boring.

“I always thought Java stuff and software developers were bored and did very tedious things. I never thought they could create so much interesting stuff,” Xu said. 

Strange said she hopes to inspire workshop participants to continue with coding and feel more comfortable with it. 

“Maybe some of them will want to go on and do more, but that’s not even the point. We want them to finish today and say, ‘Hey, that’s not so hard. I can do this,’” Strange said.