The Start

By: Vaishnavi Yadaram

Imagine this: Walking into a large state of the art–computer science lecture hall, a huge projector screen, an intense professor behind the podium. Despite this new shiny room, your attention rather panics, you’re now confused “Which one of these 300 new students should I sit beside?”. Naturally, you try finding a woman like yourself. You take a seat in an empty row, an international student from Vietnam greets you, later shares his obvious observation “Wow there are only 5 girls here”. 

This is precisely what I vividly remember from my first day at university. As the days, and months quickly passed by, I look back on all the different seemingly simple obstacles I had to pass through. These weren’t any roadblocks, just things I wish someone had told me about to make the best of my university experience in a small town. 

For you, I’ll be this someone. Here’s a list of all the places, things, activities an introvert, extrovert or BIPOC female or any woman could try exploring at university/college to make the best time for yourself, and others like you! 

  • Your local computer science/computer engineering club at the department. 

Usually, there’s a very large turnout at the beginning of the fall semester for a club like this, with a promising agenda for the remainder of the year. But you’ll soon see, a few months later the participation drops to under 50%.

My advice:  At first, it certainly is intimidating to walk in just alone. try finding a partner (even if they’re not related to your program) to walk in with you. After the initial exchange of names, hometowns, & interests – you’ll have a new contact list of people from each of your classes. This is a great way to acquaint yourself, get familiarized and build a study/friends group while everyone is equally nervous! 

  • Create a Slack, or Facebook group for a specific course, or an interest for people in your program. 

I promise, this one is easier to do than it sounds. Behind the screen leadership is just as valuable, and much needed in our already virtual world. I started a group with just 3 people for a math course. By just word of mouth and sharing it with the few people I and the 3 others knew, the group grew to more than 50 people sharing homework, planning study sessions and movie nights by the end of the year! 

My advice: Create an accessible group where everyone is welcomed within the course/program/area of interest. Lay out the group ethics (ex: everyone is allowed to post, accepted topics, etc.) and add in the few people you know. Ask group members to invite others, and start a chain of introductions or questions or suggest for a quick in person or virtual meetup. This group will be an essential around midterm or exam time supporting each other and sharing lecture notes on those days you can’t move your finger off the snooze button.

  • Attending hackathons/conferences – okay, pretty basic. But by far the most intimidating type of social interaction. 

Not only was I hesitant to go, but I also didn’t know how to code anything, nothing actually at this point during my 1st or 2nd semester. A useless combo for anyone who wants to get out there in their field of study.  

My advice: Go anyway! Sign up for those fun breakout activities, speaker and Q/A sessions. You’ll likely meet a team who’d appreciate an extra member during lunch, or in the breakout sessions. This would be the best way to meet others from other towns, people different from you or a great way to find someone like yourself. You’ll be immersed in new ideas, inspirers and new founded energy to make your learning so much more worthwhile. Hackathons are also a great way to receive feedback, while also learn about the newest projects people have been involving themselves in.  As they say the greater the risk, the greater the gain! 

  • Initiating a women only club for computer science/math.

Having intimate clubs for women in a male dominated field works to bring together a network of caring and resilient women forward to share their ideas, struggles, and plans. Small groups would be a great way for those who are introverted and prefer a cozy community of supporters. 

My advice: Start with teaming up with a female instructor, professor, a lecturer or a friendly TA. Initiate a one-on-one meeting during their office hours, and ask for support with planning and general long-term support for this club. Chances are they’ve been exposed to the different interests of young, curious women of all walks and may provide a wider vision to your idea. This would be a great way to teach what you know, while being be all ears. 

Building solid friendships, or a group of supporters is essential to a healthy mindset, progress and more importantly an enjoyable time during college/university. Looking back the start of anything was challenging, but a prerequisite to many obstacles and achievements. Remember, every journey begins with a single step!

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