Chris Johnson Holds CS Workshops for PWSE Taking the Road Less Traveled, A Career Conference for Girls

April 29, 2010

Chris Johnson, Lecturer for the Department of Computer Science, held workshop sessions in conjunction with the Program for Women in Science and Engineering's Taking the Road Less Traveled, A Career Conference for Girls in April. 

Chris Johnson, whose work with PWSE is supported by a 2010 Women's Enrichment Mini-grant, was the session leader for Computer Science. "For a variety of reasons, fewer women enroll in science, technology, engineering, and athematics than men. We cannot passively wait for the imbalance to correct itself. I view it as our department's responsibility to encourage young women as early as middle school and beyond to create and reason through computational problems." 

One of the workshops gave 45 young women from middle schools across the state of Iowa a chance to learn just a little bit about thinking computationally. Participants paired up and were provided a PicoCricket -- a kit for developing programmable art. In the hour-long workshop, teams breathed life into the PicoCricket, making it sing, shine, and interact. Along the way, we investigated some core topics of computation: input and output, process, repetition, and conditional logic. The room was pleasantly noisy. 

Johnson stated, "It's our hope to conduct more such workshops for groups of young women and men. The more exposure we can give these minds to computational thinking, the more empowered they will be to positively impact our world." 

The Artificial Research Laboratory also participated in workshops for the girls. Fadi Twofic, a 4th year PhD student, and Rasna Walia, a 1st year PhD student, introduced their work in computational biology. 

Taking the Road Less Traveled is a conference aimed to expose girls, sixth through twelfth grades, to career paths within science, technology, engineering and math. More than 2,500 individuals participate in the program each year. Questions about the conference can be directed to Carol Heaverlo, Program Coordinator at (515) 294-5883 or