Nikki Nguyen and Samantha Hangsan are both computer science majors. Despite that, their paths didn’t cross until a professor introduced them.
By starting the College of Engineering’s newest student organization—Women in Computing (WiC)—the pair hope to build a close-knit community where people of all identities can pursue their interests to positively impact the future of technology.
WiC co-presidents Nguyen and Hangsan created the club not only to encourage women to pursue degrees in computer science and computer engineering, but to build leadership skills to succeed in their careers and inspire future women in technology.
Although equally qualified, women are at a higher risk to quit or avoid the computing field due to negative interactions within the classroom and unequal growth opportunities. Women account for less than 20 percent of computer science students at CSULB and nationwide.
The pair have identified some needs so far—reliable support systems and better communication of resources. “I’d sometimes be in a classroom of 45 people and I’d be the only woman,” recalled Hangsan.
A turning point for both was the Google-sponsored exploreCSR last February, a three-day workshop at CSULB that brought together female computer science students from throughout Southern California to expose them to opportunities in computer science research.
Nguyen and Hangsan want to create a similarly supportive space at CSULB where women and their allies can find friends, mentorship, and sisterhood.
The club’s faculty advisors are Jelena Trajkovic and Associate Dean for Academic Programs Tracy Maples. In May, Maples hosted a luncheon with the WiC co-founders to discuss how to raise awareness and foster communication.
Trajkovic has been leading the effort in the Computer Engineering and Computer Science Department to organize attendance at the Grace Hopper Celebration and ACM Richard Tapia Conference. Faculty members Shui Lam, Mehrdad Aliasgari, and Alvaro Monge also support the new club.
“I am happy to contribute to increasing diversity, and especially the diversity of female students,” said Trajkovic, whose goal is to connect professionals with WiC.
Both Nguyen and Hangsan will be attending the Grace Hopper Celebration in Orlando in October as well as the Tapia Celebration in San Diego in September. Upon their return, they to hold a panel presentation to share their experiences. They also hope to host a Distinguished Women Speakers’ Series, networking events, and technical workshops.
Participation is open to anyone interested in programming and supportive of diversity and inclusion in technology. Nguyen and Hangsan say they’re pleased with the level of interest they’ve received. Those interested in getting involved can email firstname.lastname@example.org.