Women in Computer Science strives for community, professional growth

Baylor Women in Computer Science (WiCS) back in 2018 when it was first chartered. Photo courtesy of Baylor WiCS

By Audrey Patterson | Reporter

Dr. Mary Lauren Benton, assistant professor in the department of computer science and co-faculty adviser for Baylor’s Women in Computer Science (WiCS), said the organization aims to build community among women, encourage professional growth and develop mentoring relationships within the club and with the outside community.

“We have some informal mentoring relationships between the older and younger members of the group and between the faculty mentors,” Benton said. “I know that this year’s officer group has been really active and trying to build up the club. And so they’re interested in building a more formal mentorship program that would help connect younger undergraduate students with more senior upper-level students and with graduate students potentially.”

The organization’s events range from professional development to social events. Benton said they’ve had discussions with companies about job opportunities and resume help.

Cupertino, Calif., junior and WiCS president Sneha Shah said they also play JackBox as an activity to encourage teamwork.

“[It] is good because those skills are essential for the workplace, and starting to build even those soft skills are really important too,” Shah said.

Shah said men are welcomed in the organization and are critical in developing their community.

“I really think there’s no better way for the field and the men in the field to help women feel empowered and supported than by coming and joining and saying, ‘Hey, it’s important to see you here. We appreciate your voices. We appreciate your presence,’” Benton said. “And so their participation, I think, is vital to understand some of the challenges that women face.”

Shah said the organization’s priority is creating community and building close relationships.

“I’ve heard of a lot of girls who start out doing computer science, and then a lot of them drop, especially at Baylor,” Shah said. “And so only a few girls actually graduate with a computer science degree.”

Benton said she thinks it will take more female role models in the field to encourage other women to believe that computer science is a viable choice for them. She said breaking down the stereotypes about what a computer scientist is and looks like would highlight the variety of applications computer science has.

“There’s been some research that shows that women tend to gravitate toward applications of computer science that are seen as helping society or building up the community,” Benton said. “A club like this can help to connect women not only to other women who are doing interesting work but other applications of computer science, such as improving the environment or working to combat climate change — computer science and health care and computer science and nonprofits.”

Benton said the computer science field is here largely due to women and the work that they’ve put in. She said foundational figures like Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper have made huge contributions to the field and left behind a legacy of programming and innovation.

Shah said she hopes to leave a legacy of a kind environment so that the community is more open to helping each other out.

“I want to foster more opportunities for women and for the girls at Baylor to be encouraged to do computer science and data science,” Shah said.

Benton said she would love her legacy to be a presence of encouragement, whether that’s in her department or in her career.

“To people who are starting out or people who are trying to figure out what they want to do, there are a lot of options, and some of them feel more nontraditional but are equally rewarding,” Benton said. “If they’re interested and want to do it, they should go for it.”