Chris Johnson Receives 2010 Women's Enrichment Mini-grant

April 2, 2010

Chris Johnson is the recipient of a 2010 Women's Enrichment Fund Mini-Grant for his proposal, Not Just Nerds: Reintroducing Computer Science with Collaboration and Creativity. This project, in partnership with the Program for Women in Science and Engineering, is designed to introduce computer science as a potential major for middle school and high school female students. Johnson observed, "Computer science is a compelling field, but it's sometimes misunderstood. So many young people's lives are saturated by technology, but their role is as users rather than developers. Many are shocked when they first see the work that goes into producing the software they use everyday. We need to educate students before they enter college about what computer science really is and where it can lead them. Historically, such educational programs have been oriented toward mens'interests and learning styles, resulting in first-year undergraduate student enrollment in Computer Science at Iowa State University being over 90% male in both academic years 2008 and 2009. With this program, we hope to reintroduce computer science to young women using methods that better match their interests and learning styles." 

As part of this project, a series of workshops will be held which will allow young women to work together in creating interactive electronic art using PicoCricket, a technology developed by the MIT Media Lab. The PicoCricket kit contains a collection of art supplies; sensors for communicating via touch, light, and sound; and a programmable "brick," which can be programmed in a visual programming environment. The workshops will be guided by current undergraduate students, giving participants few-to-one interaction with individuals who can offer first-hand accounts of what computer science is. These undergraduate students will design tasks using the PicoCricket kits to promote teamwork, creativity, and an accurate picture of our field. 

In these workshops, Johnson aims to knock down the stereotypes that have been built up around computing that may discourage women from entering the field. Industry and faculty speakers will share personal experiences that demonstrate the highly collaborative development process that underpins software engineering. Current undergraduate students and learning community members will share projects they've completed, describing the creative process and teamwork required to make useful software tools. The purpose is to effectively rebrand computer science for what it really is: a means of creative expression, improving and managing our lives, and helping others. 

The Women's Enrichment Fund at ISU is designed to support initiatives that will enrich the experiences of women faculty, staff and students at Iowa State University