High School Students Plunge into CS
Making electronic music, developing a website, creating a digital presence—these are just a sampling of the activities that 250 high school students experienced April 11 as part of CS @ ILLINOIS Splash, a one-day computer science showcase sponsored by Women in Computer Science (WCS) and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).
A new event this year, Splash grew out of WCS’s ChicTech weekend retreat, which brought 43 female high school students to campus last spring to encourage their interest in computer science, while touting the benefits of studying CS at Illinois. Splash participants spent the day taking courses, touring the Siebel Center for Computer Science and engineering campus, and interacting with CS undergraduate students.
According to Splash co-leader Nathan Handler, almost half of the Splash participants were women, and more than 75 CS undergraduates developed and taught 71 different courses throughout the day.
“For me, the most memorable moments were spent talking one-on-one with students and parents,” said Handler, who was touched by one mom’s effort to drive her son to campus from their home northwest of Chicago early that morning when his transportation plans fell through. “That helped me see that Splash is not just another event for many of the [high school] students. Instead, it is helping to play a key role in determining where they go to school and their futures.”
In conjunction with Splash, CS @ ILLINOIS presented the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Award for Aspirations in Computing to six female high school students. The department recently launched a regional chapter of NCWIT, a nonprofit community of more than 600 universities, companies, and government organizations nationwide working to increase women’s participation in computing and technology.
The following students received the Aspirations award for their leadership, strong academics, and aptitude and interest in IT and computing: Champaign Central High School sophomore Sarah Collins, Normal West High School junior Allyah Evans, Metamora High School senior Jenna Gardner, University High School sophomore Hailan Shanbhag, University High School freshman Hadley Shapland, and University High School freshman Elizabeth Singer.
Before the presentation of Aspiration awards, CS Lecturer Cinda Heeren gave the young women an interactive introduction to computer science concepts by creating a series of new songs based on the notes and rhythms of Mary Had A Little Lamb. She walked them through the process of analyzing all the possible combinations of notes, translated that information into Python code, and then executed the code to produce a variety of new songs.
“Many of our winners came away from the ceremony marveling at how prestigious the award is,” said CS junior Briana Chapman, a former Aspirations recipient, who helped present the awards. “[Now they belong to] a nationwide community of alumnae, where they share information, advice, support, and news about scholarships, internships, and coding camps.”
Financial support for the day’s events was provided by the CS Department. CS @ ILLINOIS extends its appreciation to all of its students who helped make Splash and NCWIT Aspirations awards ceremony a memorable day for the high school youth. Special thanks to student leaders Briana Chapman, Emily Tran, Matthew Dierker, Nathan Handler, and Corly Leung.
“Both events were excellent examples of the entire department coming together to put on this community event focused on showcasing and inspiring high school students to learn more about Computer Science,” said CJ Coleman, the department’s associate director of external relations.