I had never heard of computer science when I walked into Marquette University’s new Girls Who Code chapter my sophomore year of high school. And I certainly didn’t know that joining this club would launch me on a path to become a complex problem solver, and enter an industry that adds hundreds of thousands of jobs every year, and is eagerly (if belatedly) recruiting women.
Given these advantages, it’s troubling that of the 700 young women at Divine Savior Holy Angels only two of us showed up for that club. We’d all been in school for a while by then. Why hadn’t we been exposed to this field earlier? It didn’t compute.
In Wisconsin alone, there are more than 6,000 open computing jobs with an average salary of $80,456, according to Code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to computer science education. Nationwide, software developer jobs are expected to increase at a rapid pace of 22% in the next 10 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
More students are taking advantage of new state legislation across the country requiring computer science courses, but we’re still a long ways away from everyone having equal access to this critical life skill. I’m not alone in this thinking; nearly seven of 10 parents say learning computer science is important, and seven of 10 teachers agree it’s as or more important than other subject areas, according to a Code.org survey.
I’ve always had a passion for math. I find solace in taking complex equations and calculating them down to a simple value for x. When I discovered computer science, I realized my penchant for math wasn’t rooted in some deep desire to understand the intricacies of number theory. It was a longing to solve problems. Two weeks into Girls Who Code — an after-school program where young women teach younger women to code — I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
My fellow coding pioneer and I grew close as we typed hundreds of lines of Python to complete our final project. Two years later, I enrolled in the inaugural AP Computer Science A course at my high school. Now, I’m a rising junior at Yale University majoring in computer science and growing even more passionate about the field as I’m presented with new, exciting problems to solve.
Just 52% of Wisconsin’s public high schools teach computer science. Expanding course offerings costs money, but the return on investment is huge. By not acting more quickly to grow this important subject, Wisconsin legislators and educators are selling my generation short.
When faced with a coding problem, you’re forced to examine all facets of the situation and think of a dozen possible solutions, then come up with another dozen bugs that could accompany the final solution. It’s endurance training for the mind that strengthens young students’ problem-solving skills — academic and otherwise.
One of the first lessons computer science students learn is if/then statements. Here are some that Wisconsin could use in its “code”:
IF we adopt a state strategic plan for K-12 computer science education, THEN we’ll begin catching up to Indiana, where 72% of high schools offer computer science.
IF we provide funding for computer science teacher training, THEN a young girl might find her calling much earlier than I did.
IF we allow computer science to satisfy a core graduation requirement, THEN we’ll develop more local programming talent to contribute to the Midwest’s growing tech industry.
The output of this program? Innovation — and more Wisconsinites with better-paying jobs.
We can’t be satisfied with the slow pace of computer science education growth in Wisconsin. Our students are missing out on years of education in this vital subject and our inaction is causing us to fall behind our national peers.
I regret immensely that my introduction to computer science came so late in my academic career. My fervent wish is that the young students in Wisconsin classrooms wondering how computers work get their answer 12 years sooner than I did.
Mary Callanan is a rising junior at Yale University majoring in computer science. She is a board member and a lead classroom mentor of Code Haven, a student-run organization whose mission is to inclusively increase access to computer science to local middle schoolers. She graduated from Divine Savior Holy Angels High School in 2018. Email: [email protected]