Dr. Atreyee Sinha
The ‘Code Squad’
A Purposeful Pathway
Mission of Mercy
Inclusion: We recognize our role in setting an example to further advance ongoing efforts toward realizing diversity and inclusion achievements. We strive to recognize, respect, and support the intersections of diverse identities as critical points of strength, learning, and growth.
Code – (v.) to write code for a computer program or application.
In the most recent U.S. Department of Commerce report on the topic, women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015, but held only 24 percent of STEM (Science, technology, engineering, math) jobs. And while nearly as many women hold undergraduate degrees as men overall, they make up only about 30 percent of all STEM degree holders. Women make up a disproportionately low share of degree holders in all STEM fields.
Dr. Atreyee Sinha, Assistant Professor in the Computing and Information Sciences Department, wants to do something about that.
A relative newcomer to Edgewood College, she has embraced the challenge to make a difference in her adopted Madison, Wisconsin by playing a key role in a new initiative to reach girls, younger than ten, and get them excited about computer science.
“In computer science, there is not even close to equal representation,” Sinha says. “This is a worldwide problem. That’s why a lot of effort is being made – especially for girls. I think it’s important to expose all kids early on to learn and know this important aspect of education.”
Working with the Badgerland Girls Scouts, Edgewood College and Dr. Sinha played host to a series of Saturdays on campus, part of the Girl Scouts’ “STEM Soup: Code Squad.” ‘STEM Soup’ served more than 200 kindergarten-through-3rd grade girls across southwest and south-central Wisconsin over the past year.
The young students learn how to take risks and challenge themselves. The girls work in teams of two to navigate popular computer coding programs from Code.org and Google Made with Code, writing their own algorithms, and brainstorming about how computational thinking can make the world a better place, Sinha says.
“This program has two essential goals,” Allison Martinson, Program Manager for Badgerland Girl Scouts said. “We want to introduce girls to careers in STEM industries and to demonstrate that STEM jobs, especially those not traditionally seen in media, are essential to making the world a better place.”
She adds “by working with Edgewood College and directly with Atreyee Sinha, Badgerland has been able to deliver on both of these goals, while also demonstrating the racial diversity of women in technology.”
To the girls she works with, Sinha is nothing short of a role model.
Dr. Sinha graduated from high school in her native Calcutta, India. At that time her only familiarity with computing centered around ‘Orkut,’ a social networking platform that predated Facebook.
But after a superior score on the entrance exam for engineering, her path became clear, she says. After completing an Engineering and Computing undergraduate degree, she moved to the U.S. and earned her Ph.D. in Computer Science. She joined the faculty of Edgewood College soon after.
“It’s nice to be a role model to them. I feel a great responsibility for that,” she says.
Dr. Sinha is quick to point out she doesn’t do this work alone. Two Madison-area information technology executives – both women – have joined her for the Code Squad sessions. Plans for an extended partnership with Badgerland Girl Scouts are in the works, which might include Edgewood College students working as mentors for the young web wizards.
Dr. Sinha, who teaches most of the “Intro” courses in the Computing and Information Sciences Department, says working with the ‘Code Squad’ is not all that different from her college courses.
“There is a web interface, and the girls just ‘drag and drop’ to code,” she explains. “This is something similar to what we offer here in our ‘Intro’ course – of course it’s more advanced (for the undergraduates) but it’s the same idea. You ‘drag and drop’ to understand the critical thinking and the logical problem-solving approach, but you don’t have to worry about the syntax, per se. You still understand the programming paradigm.”
“I am excited, and I look forward to seeing these girls,” Dr. Sinha says. “When you see them understand that logical problem-solving, it’s really exciting. That always gives me happiness.”