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Women in Computing

A group of women computer science and computer information systems majors at Widener University are on a mission to reprogram their profession.

The computing discipline, long dominated by males, has a strong female presence at Widener, due in part to the Women in Computing Club –a group started four years ago by Associate Professor Yana Kortsarts.

The club helps female students build social connections with each other and provides opportunities for upperclassmen to mentor freshmen interested in the computing field.

“I don’t think we are any different than the males in the field, but we both bring the same kinds of skills to the table but from a different perspective,” said Alyssa Coffey, a recent computer science graduate and a founding member of the club.

Kortsarts added the club meets weekly and students often work together on various activities like planning workshops for high school female students interested in computer science and related disciplines. The club also encourages students to participate in undergraduate research projects, for instance, building and programing LEGO NXT robots.

Two freshman computer science students, Tulsi Patel and Noella Noel recently attended a regional conference to present their research on how extracurricular activities can enhance retention and recruitment of women in computing disciplines.

“Being around other girls helps because you can keep each other focused and determined,” said Megan Petrillo, who also graduated in May. “You don’t let each other get discouraged.”

Last year, Sophomore Kait Hitchcock and junior Allie Wentzel attended a research conference to share the “female friendly” computer game they created with the ALICE 3D programming platform.

“It was really fulfilling to hear all the feedback and that people thought it was a good idea,” Wentzel said of the conference, adding many in attendance gave them advice on how to expand their game design.

And these types of research accomplishments have not gone unnoticed by employers. Many of the female students in the club have been able to turn their co-op or internship experiences into full-time jobs after graduation.

Coffey accepted a position as a programmer with Life Cycle Engineering in Philadelphia and Petrillo landed a job with global banking conglomerate JP Morgan Chase.

“I know it can sometimes be hard to find a job when you graduate from college, but this is a good field to get into,” said Coffey. “I would highly recommend it because there are so many opportunities that come with it.”