This week I got a chance to go and demo/present/talk to a group of high schoolers. Specifically high school girls, because we all know (and are hit over the head with it) that the number of females in computer science is pretty dismal. And the hope is, that having females who are in computer science talk go potential (female) students, may help to counter this. Whether or not it will actually do anything is another topic.
Either way, it was a lot of fun, and an interesting experience. I realized it was the first time I had stepped foot in a high school in about 8 years. It’s also the first time I’ve ever been in a high school that big. My school was on the smaller side, about 600 students in grades 9 through 12. This school has over 2000 students in grades 10 through 12. We definitely needed the map to get around.
When I started grad school, there seemed to be tons of opportunities for outreach. However, it seems like many of them have died off, probably due to budget cuts. This opportunity was a bit special, in that it was specifically brought to me and one other. The teacher seemed really happy with how it proceeded, that he’s already asked if we could come back in the fall, and possibly next spring too.
I think outreach is really important. And not (just) in the ‘we need more girls’ way, but just to give high school students a chance to ask about what the experience is like, and to hear about opportunities for them. I had a pretty good idea going to university what it would be like, because I have older siblings. But not everyone has that. And it’s different asking a university rep questions about a school then it is asking an actual student.
The one piece of advice I try to impart to high schoolers, is to take a wide variety of classes in their first year. Even if you’re so sure about what you’re going to do, take the first year to get a feel about the different areas, just so you can confirm. I took biology my first semester first year, and by half way through, was already changing my schedule for second semester so I wouldn’t need to take the second half. I knew it wasn’t for me. But, if I hadn’t taken it, I wouldn’t have known that. Besides, university use to be about producing well-rounded people with knowledge from both the arts and sciences. I think that’s something that’s missing more and more now, and something we should be trying to bring back.