LSU junior Sarah Sicard is helping build a support network for women studying computer science at the university.
Sicard is president of the LSU Chapter of Women in Computer Science, which supports the professional and academic development of female students in the field. The group provides career training, hosts an annual hackathon, and offers a way for female programmers on campus to connect with others going through the same journey.
“We’re just trying to show that there are girls in computer science,” she says.
Sicard says she started working with computers at St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge, tinkering with 3-D modeling and assisting with the all-girls school’s computer help desk, staffed entirely by students. “We fixed all of our own computers,” she says.
That introduction into technology sent her on a self-guided exploration of online coding classes. She says she was immediately hooked, drawn in by the field’s ethos of acquiring new knowledge and skills.
“I looked into the field, and I saw it’s something where you’re constantly learning,” she says. “It’s really cool that you get to develop a product and get involved in the tech industry and these big things that a lot of people don’t understand, that they just pick up a product and use it. It’s really cool to learn what’s going on in the background, how the Internet works, how a product is developed, how your Snapchat works.”
Women in Computer Science
Sicard says she first encountered WICS when she attended the Encounter Engineering Bridge Camp that helps incoming freshmen get a head start on their college experience. Several CS students encouraged her to join the organization as soon as she arrived on campus. She heeded their advice and says the group has helped her develop career skills that will be key to landing an internship or job.
“I just felt super lost not knowing how to do a résumé, or interviews, or how that works, because nobody ever teaches you in a class,” she says.
WICS continues that mission, helping women in computer science grow professionally through networking, résumé workshops, and internship panels. It also works to raise awareness about female coders at LSU and their projects — awareness that plays an important role in attracting the next generation to the field of computer science.
Sicard says that even coming from a high-performing, all-girls school with an advanced technology program, it was apparent that not enough students were introduced to the world of computers and coding.
“I still believe that a lot of people just weren’t exposed to computer science, and I think that’s the real reason that the gender gap exists in the field,” she says.
The Women in Computer Science Game Jam is an event that takes place each fall. Open to both high school and college students, the event gives participants 48 hours to create a video game — from brainstorming to delivering a product.
Participants can attend with or without a team; organizers match individuals up with a group. Students who are younger than 18 years old must be accompanied by a chaperone. Teams in the past have developed a wide range of projects in the two-day format.
“It gives you that kickstart that a lot of people need in starting their product,” Sicard says. “It’s also a really great way to learn how to work on a team.”
The event is just one example of what Sicard says is a collaborative atmosphere within LSU’s CS department that supports solving problems and learning new skills.
“I find that in all of my classes, everybody is so willing to help,” she says. “That’s one of the things I love about the computer science field. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed.”