A Panel Discussion on she++ at Hathaway Brown

On Thursday, May 9th, Hathaway Brown School hosted the Ohio premiere of She++ The Documentary, and computer teacher James Allen emceed a panel discussion on women in computer science.

The documentary, directed by Stanford University computer science students Ayna Agarwal and Ellora Israni, is one tool being utilized by a new organization of the same name to encourage young women to seek education and careers in computer science. While women make up 52% of math and science degrees, they only make up 18% of computer science graduates; the she++ organization seeks to change this by providing role models in the field of computer science.

Judy Auping, Sue Kenney, Liz Novak & Melissa Heffelfinger
Thursday's panelists at Hathaway Brown were Liz Novak, VP of Information, Technology & Solutions at University Hospitals (HB Class of 1977); Dr. Judith V. Auping, a software engineer for over thirty years at the NASA Glenn Research Center; Melissa Heffelfinger, a Networking &; Telecom Operations Analyst at Progressive Insurance; Susan Kenney, a VP in IT at the Federal Reserve, and Laney Kuenzel (HB Class of 2008), an engineer at Facebook; and Caroline Aronoff, a student at MIT (HB Class of 2011) via Google Hangout.

The lively discussion focused on what can be done to encourage women to find an interest in computer science and then stay in the field. The panelists shared their own stories of getting into CS, and how they each became comfortable and successful in male dominated classes and workplaces. A recurring theme in the conversation was the need for confidence in the face of cocky or overachieving male peers, and strong belief in one's own ability to catch up to those who have been coding since childhood. Both recent HB grads pointed to their preparatory foundation from Hathaway Brown as a source of such confidence.
James Allen, CS teacher at HB

The need for women in the field was stressed repeatedly, as male audience members shared difficulty finding female candidates for open job opportunities  These audience members also shared relief at working with female engineers who were often better at communicating and seeing "bigger picture" problems than their male peers.

The discussion also touched on the family-friendly nature of flexible scheduling in many computer-related fields, and dismissed the idea that time away from the field spent with children would disqualify women from returning to it later--especially in a field growing faster rate than graduates are entering the workforce.

More info at sheplusplus.stanford.edu
Mr. Allen stressed that Hathaway Brown was doing everything possible to promote computer science, touching on growing computer science and programming classes and HB's robotics team, FIRST Team 2399, The Fighting Unicorns. The evening concluded with Mr. Allen reasserting that the keys to getting women involved in computer sciences came down to exposure and opportunity, and then maintaining confidence, to which he was able to point back to Hathaway Brown and the she++ e-mentorship program at sheplusplus.stanford.edu.

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