Breaking barriers: Female MA computer science teachers inspire the next generation of coders

Breaking barriers: Female MA computer science teachers inspire the next generation of coders

While we may live in the heart of Silicon Valley—a region known globally for technological innovation—computer science (CS) is a field in which women are vastly under-represented. With only 18% earning bachelor’s degrees in this field, the workplace rarely exhibits a fair balance of both genders.

However, in MA, two out of three ECD teachers are women. Tomiko Fronk teaches AP Principles of Computer Science (except Precalculus) and. Cynthia Donaldson is majoring in AP Computer Science A, or AP Java.

Donaldson at her high school graduation.

Donaldson was first introduced to the world of technology through her father, a mechanical engineer. “He really wanted us to be astronauts, so he bought us one of the first home computers called a VIC-20,” she said, adding, “There’s something about a girl who has her father’s permission. her to follow a male-dominated world. helps a lot.”

Donaldson shared a talent and aptitude for mathematics and studied it at the University of California, Berkeley, where he also learned coding.

She explained, “I went to Cal thinking I was going to major in math, but I took as many coding courses as I could just because it was growing. It wasn’t very popular yet, but people were starting to code.”

However, the courses were dominated by men. “I was usually the only woman in my math and coding classes,” she said.

Donaldson experienced this further when she interned as Chief Aerodynamics Scientist at NASA. “I walked into the aerodynamics building and they didn’t have any women other than the secretaries. They were so excited that I was there because it meant they could finally be part of the softball league.”

Years later, Donaldson still sees the same phenomenon in MA. She said, “My classes are still easily two-thirds men. I don’t know why that is.”

Donaldson hopes female students won’t be intimidated by the course. “The mean scores for the women in my classes are one standard deviation above the men’s scores,” she said. “As a rule, women do very well in the classroom.”

She also wants students to understand that taking computer science doesn’t mean you have to become a computer scientist, but it will provide you with a set of skills useful for many different careers. She said: “Whatever job you choose to pursue, you will come in with a wider skill set than most. In most fields these days, having a little coding knowledge absolutely gives you a leg up.”

Fronk’s passion for teaching computer science stemmed from her academic experience. “I started out as an electrical engineering major in college, which at the time had the least number of women of any engineering field,” she explained, noting that she quickly decided it wasn’t something she wanted to do. followed.

“I was sitting in a lecture and I was one of two girls out of about 100 students,” she described. “I turned to the guy who was sitting next to me and he was playing video games while the lecture was going on. I asked him a super simple question like ‘What’s your homework?’ and he looked at me, didn’t say anything, and then went back to his video games.”

Fronk takes a selfie with her students.

Fronk was determined to make sure that discrimination didn’t happen at MA, so when she and Donaldson started at the school in 2014, the pair worked together to develop an inclusive and welcoming program.

She advised: “Don’t be afraid to try. CS is challenging, but I think the teachers here, like Ms. Donaldson, are so kind and willing to work with you. If you’re up for the challenge, there’s a lot of support here.”

Donaldson and Fronk’s stories reflect that discrimination is still prevalent in STEM, but they also serve as a reminder to all young women that they are capable of achieving success in any field they desire.

Donaldson and Fronk have created an inclusive computer science community and continue to inspire every student to achieve their coding goals, with the hope of a future that sees gender equality in professional and academic spaces from which women were historically discouraged.

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