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CS Spotlight: High School Student Jessica Song on Discovering Her Love for Computer Science

September 8, 2021
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"I thought about how many people don’t have the support I had or access to so much help. Without it, they can miss out on the amazing tool that is computer science — one that can help them find a career they love."

Bay Area Youth Computer Science Council (BAYCSC) is a team of high schoolers that advocates for computer science education. Located in the Bay Area, the group works to expose as many students as possible to computer science by making it accessible, approachable, and, just as importantly, fun. 

We talked to three of the BAYCSC Youth Council’s leading members — Supriya, Jessica, and Sara, who were seniors in high school at the time of our conversation. They discussed their pathways into CS, involvement in BAYCSC, passion for CS education equity, and long-term hopes and goals. In addition to last month’s blog post highlighting Supriya, check out our conversation with Jessica below and stay tuned for our final interview with Sara.

How did you get involved in computer science at school?

My parents happen to both be programmers, and I knew about CS ever since my mom encouraged me to try it. I’ve always loved reading and storytelling so I thought “this isn’t my thing.” Then, in 10th grade, my school offered AP Computer Science A, a class about the Java language,  and I figured I’d try computer science again. My mom helped me with getting the basics to take the class. 

Ever since I was younger, I had this notion that girls should be better in literature and humanities and aren’t supposed to do STEM, while boys are. I had a lot of doubts about whether I was smart enough to do CS. I got really interested in the second semester of AP CS, when we had a pretty complicated project and I ended up fixing almost all the problems myself. I realized I wasn’t incapable of doing this.

What do you like about computer science?

It’s so cool that based on how I think and what I tell the computer to do, it can do it for me. It has a power so much beyond what my bare hands can do. This is when I became really interested in studying computer science, and this is also how I became interested in BAYCSC. I wish that someone had told me earlier that CS is just a powerful tool — it’s not anything that you’re not smart enough to do.

How did you get involved with BAYCSC?

My mom brought my brother and me to a Python event that Dr. Emily Thomforde hosted. I didn’t know about BAYCSC until then. I was the only high schooler at that event learning Python, and Dr. Em handed me a flyer for BAYCSC. It said words like “leadership,” “community,” “CS,” and “advocate,” which were all things that I was down for.

What kinds of things has BAYCSC been doing?

We hosted a CS+Social Good Speaker Series, which consisted of multiple panel events to inspire middle and high schoolers to pursue computer science. Participants heard from and interacted with a range of inspiring speakers in the computer science field, like Pamela Fox, content creator for APCS at Khan Academy; Carl Shan, senior data scientist at LinkedIn; and David Lee, assistant professor of computational media at the Tech4Good Lab at UC Santa Cruz. With the speaker series, our goal was to show students that CS can be connected with many fields — not just engineering and math.

We’ve been working on turning the CS+Social Good Speaker Series into a continuing education unit at UCSC, as well as a course at Foothill College, which is a local community college in the Bay Area. The continuing education unit is similar to an online course for teachers to take. It’s a micro-credential for them to add to their profiles and skill sets. It serves that purpose at Foothill College, as well. We want to show teachers and counselors that CS can be useful for so many different things. Through this course, we hope that teachers and counselors can learn about the many potential applications of CS and can point them out to their students. So, if a teacher has a student who is interested in social science, they can encourage them to also look into CS and see the intersections between the two subjects. It’s really cool that as students we’re giving feedback to our teachers. It’s a great feeling.

Why are you passionate about CS education equity and CSforAll? 

When I was doubting that I could do CS, my mom, who’s a very experienced software developer, gave me so much support to help me see otherwise. She was there whenever I needed help with a project. I’m also very lucky that my high school provided a lot of support for computer science. My first CS class also had equal representation of girls and boys, so I was in a very privileged situation. And yet, because of my gender, I still had to spend extra time struggling with the perception that girls aren’t supposed to do STEM. It took me seeking out all these resources to eventually expose myself to the amazing opportunity, BAYCSC. I thought about how many people don’t have the support I had or access to so much help. Without it, they can miss out on the amazing tool that is computer science — one that can help them find a career they love.

What do you want to do when you finish high school in terms of college and your career?

I’m interested in learning more about communications and connecting social sciences with computer science. For example, I’ve thought about how on platforms like Twitter, there are so many people posting about their emotions. There’s so much data on peoples’ emotions and thoughts on the internet. We as humans cannot look over all of the posts and summarize them, but machines can. I’m interested in using data science and computers to process this type of data. I can see that intersection being something that would be very useful in PR because it could allow us to analyze the public’s emotions with a scale that we never did before. I can’t wait to expose myself to other social sciences and discover more ways to use computer science to learn more and act upon the world.

We loved learning about what inspires students like Jessica to pursue computer science. If you agree that more girls like her should have access to CS, please visit www.csforca.org to learn more about our tools and resources to help advocate for more CS in your school.

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