PCHS computer science program hits backspace on the gender gap | ParkRecord.com

PCHS computer science program hits backspace on the gender gap

(From left) Kira Sincock, Lindsay Gordon and Alicia Whitty are among the few girls who take computer science courses at Park City High School. They, along with teacher Kelly Henderson, are trying to increase the diversity in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field. (Bubba Brown/Park Record)

When Kelly Henderson walked into her classroom on the first day of school, she thought there must have been a mistake.

Henderson is in her first year teaching computer science at Park City High School, and her first period class is computer programming. There were 25 boys in the class and only seven girls.

"I’ve never seen a disproportionate ratio like that," she said. "I couldn’t believe it."

Many of the rest of her classes have even more extreme gender ratios. But Henderson is not content to accept the status quo. The lack of diversity in the school’s computer science programs is indicative of a similar problem nationwide, and she is aiming to fix it.

"You don’t realize what’s not there until you have other kinds of people coming in," she said of the male-dominated computer science industry. "Women and minorities have different viewpoints, and they’re not being represented right now."

Henderson has focused her efforts on trying to bring more exposure to the computer science programs, in hopes that girls will want to participate. She’s worked with school counselors to get them to encourage girls taking classes like programming, and she’s had some of her current female students give presentations about the programs to other classes.

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But one of Henderson’s problems has already been solved: The girls that are in her classes enjoy them, and they want to spread the word. Kira Sincock, a freshman who takes programming from Henderson and potentially wants to pursue it as a career, said she relishes the chance to help increase the diversity.

"I think it’s a cool experience to be the leaders of this and inspire others to become programmers, too," she said. "I think we definitely need it while technology is growing, so diversity is very needed. It’s cool to be leading that, in a way."

Freshman Alicia Whitty also said that she isn’t turned away by the gender disparity in computer sciences.

"I’m not intimidated because that’s how it’s been pretty much for the entire history," she said. "It’s nothing that women haven’t faced before."

Lindsay Gordon, a senior, said that she is hopeful that the perceptions of women in computer science fields is already changing, and that Park City can help lead the charge.

"We’re just biologically different, and we can bring different things to the table that men might not think of," she said. "I think people are just now kind of realizing the importance of women in this field and trying to get women involved."

With female students spreading the word, Henderson is hopeful that the gender ratio will be more even in a few years, but she acknowledges the long road ahead.

"Right now, I’m looking at it more of this hill I have to climb and less like, ‘What will it be like once we get there?’" she said. "I’m focused on the problem at hand."