Computer Science for Girls

By Emily Gold Boutilier / September / October 2002
June 29th, 2007
Until this summer Anna Vittorioso, a fourteen-year-old from Providence, turned on her computer mostly to play games and surf the Internet. Now she can create her own Web page, take apart an old computer, and even program a robot to dance - all thanks to a five-week computer science department workshop.

Vittorioso was one of nineteen high school girls from the Providence area - many of them the first in their family to consider college - to participate in the free Artemis Project, which is meant to offset the tendency of adolescent girls to lose interest in science.

Begun in 1996, the program is now directed by Professor of Computer Science Tom Dean. Running Artemis this summer were sophomore computer science concentrators Leah Pearlman, Susannah Raub, Erika Faires, and Jennifer Rosenbaum, all of whom have experienced firsthand the discomfort of, as Pearlman puts it, spending "two years being the absolute minority in our classes."

In the workshop the girls studied programming and Windows XP, talked with female scientists, and took field trips to such technology hot spots as the Boston Museum of Science and MIT's artificial intelligence lab.

A favorite session, though, was the one on robots. After building Lego Mindstorm robots from a kit, the girls worked in groups to pick a favorite song - no easy task for ninth-graders - and programmed their robots to move to the beat.

One veteran from the 2001 Artemis project, fifteen-year-old Hong Chau of Pawtucket, returned to help this summer, thanks to a paid fellowship. She helped the younger girls with their lessons, while the Brown students gave her advanced instruction. "It was a really great experience," Chau says, "to come to college, interact with people, and just play with computers all day."

The Brown women plan to e-mail their summer students throughout the year to keep in touch. And Tom Dean hopes that in a few years he'll be seeing some of the girls return as Brown undergraduates.

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September / October 2002