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IT girls on campus

IT girls on campus

When Grace Nolan first got her hands on a computer, her parents hated it.

“It was a Nintendo Super Mario Brothers game. They tried to ban me but it didn’t work.”

That early exposure – “I was about seven” – got her interested in technology and she proceeded to delve deeper into computers.

“I was always interested in menus and changing things,” she says.

That interest came with its downsides. She once decided it would be a good idea to click the icon that said ‘restore default settings’ and promptly lost everything.

But it never put her off and she is now just a couple of papers away from completing her undergraduate degree in Computer Science at the University of Waikato, where she is a strong advocate for growing the number of women taking it as a subject.

She help start CS3, a support group for computer science students, and actively seeks opportunities to spread the word that computer science isn’t just a subject for boys.

“I gave a talk at my old school (Waikato Diocesan) and we had to move to a bigger room, there was so much interest,” she says.

And with technology now playing a part in all aspects of everyday life, there are far more opportunities to get involved.

“You can work with your passions, take something you are interested in and add computer science to it. I just want girls to know it’s an option.”

And it’s an option which can bring many rewards.

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She has been a Google Student Ambassador for two years, attending retreats in Sydney, and has received a scholarship to attend the world’s largest conference for women in IT, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, being held in Texas in October.

She has also been awarded a Summer Research Scholarship to carry out a literature review of research into women in computing. Following that she hopes to develop code camps aimed solely at girls.

She says receiving the scholarships provides validation of her skills, which is important as it can still be tough for women to gain respect in IT.

“There is still a lot of bias and women are not taken seriously,” she says.

“Boys are often louder and dominate conversations. Girls tend to sit back and watch a bit more. And women tend to undervalue themselves.”

To encourage more girls to consider an IT career, she is backing two computer workshops being held at the University of Waikato over the school holidays. The workshops are for secondary school age girls and will teach website development over two Fridays.

Computer science senior tutor Nilesh Kanji has been offering secondary school students level one papers through the STAR programme since 2009 and has noticed there are fewer girls coming through.

“We want to increase the number of females. There is a perception of what computer science is but it’s changed a lot, there are a lot more things you can do. Things like developing apps for phones, five to 10 years ago these sorts of jobs didn’t exist.”

“Things are a lot more visual now and that might appeal more to girls, and girls bring a different point of view, so it’s good to get that range of opinion.”

The workshop are being held at the University of Waikato on Friday, 2 October and Friday, 9 October.

For more information visit the Faculty of Computing and Mathematical Sciences.


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