It always bothered Devshi Mehrotra, SB/MS’19, that less than a third of her peers majoring in computer science at UChicago were women. “There simply isn’t enough representation of women” in the most advanced computer science classes, she told Chicago public radio station WBEZ in a 2019 interview. “We really want to make a difference. Of course, we can build a computer science female community on campus, but why not start much earlier?”
Mehrotra and other UChicago computer science majors are doing just that through compileHer, a registered student organization that brings computer science to middle-school girls at Chicago public schools. UChicago students volunteer to conduct coding workshops at schools, including Bret Harte Elementary in Hyde Park; lead field trips to companies like Microsoft and Google; hold an annual designHer hackathon where girls create mobile apps; and host a capstone program where more than 250 compileHer students from all over the city use technology to solve a hands-on challenge. The 2019 capstone engages compileHer students in using their tech skills to save the day after a mock attack by a malicious computer virus that shuts down computers and phones across Chicago.
“It is only when individuals from diverse backgrounds are equipped with digital skills that they will be able to craft technological solutions for the communities they belong to.”
The compileHer activities are engineered for maximum fun, but the purpose behind them is serious: “The importance of technical literacy to social mobility in our society cannot be overstated,” said Mehrotra, who currently serves as compileHer’s director. “We seek to organize opportunities at no cost to our students and prioritize outreach to historically under-resourced schools … we are committed to closing the gender gap in the tech world by providing free, high-quality computer science education to young women.”