Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership Studies is launching a new program to encourage women to pursue careers in computer science.
The program, Barnard Codes, is a startup intended to provide entrepreneurial resources and improve accessibility for students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math—fields that don’t play a prominent role in Barnard’s curriculum.
“Fifty-five percent of the women who enroll in comp sci drop it within the first two weeks,” said Nathalie Molina Niño, the head of entrepreneurial programs at the Athena Center.
While that figure is a problem, she said, “I come from that world of programmers, so it’s not surprising to me. The ‘brogrammer’ culture is strong, and intimidating.”
The new program was conceived by physical and natural sciences professor Rae Silver. Silver was inspired to start the program after working with Barnard research assistants who weren’t able to analyze data because of the intense coding required.
“As a neuroscientist, she gets great, brilliant Barnard interns who are able to contribute a lot to her work, but they tend to get stuck in that they can’t do proper data analysis because they don’t have the coding skills,” Molina Niño said.
The program’s curriculum will consist of three stages. Students will learn HTML, CSS, and Photoshop so that they can design and build websites, set up PayPal payment options, and insert other commercial web features.
The second phase of the program will include teaching students how to create and manage databases, and could include teaching students how to develop mobile applications.
The final phase will be an introduction to high-level computer programming languages such as Python.
Once students complete the program—which will also focus on how coding can help entrepreneurs—they will have the opportunity to help other students in science and coding fields.
The majority of calculus classes are held on Columbia’s campus and have over 100 students enrolled, which some students said makes it difficult to get the help they need.
“It’s hard to ask questions when the class is big,” Hope Jin, BC ’17, said.
And TAs at the Math Help Room, which is open daily and staffed with calculus teaching assistants, are not always helpful, students said.
“I don’t usually work with the TAs,” Shama Khan, BC ’16, said about her experience in the Help Room. Instead, she’s found a different way to get help: “I work with people in my class.”
With instruction from professionals and other students, Barnard Codes aims to give students the specific attention they need to master the art of coding—especially given its focus on aiding entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship “is always something I’ve been interested in, since my dad was always launching different companies when I was little,” Audrey Copeland, BC ’17 and one of the students involved with founding the program, said. On the other hand, “coding has always been my brother’s thing, but I’ve been interested in it. It’d be good if we could make it accessible to more people.”
Barnard Codes is meant to be not only an introduction to computer science at Barnard, but also a way for Barnard students to approach computer science in a practical rather than theoretical manner.
“We’re trying to teach people the practical and real-life rudimentary skills. I think that everybody should have these skills, whether you’re an artist or an author,” Molina Niño said. “When it comes to web coding, it’s going to be like learning to type. Coding is just going to be one of these concepts that people assume you know it.”
Correction: An earlier caption misspelled founding member Marisa Liu’s last name. Spectator regrets the error.