ACM-W promotes perseverance for women in STEM

Elena Waldman

Women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics face the challenge of building communities in male-dominated fields. 

The Applied Computing Machinery and Women (ACM-W) club at Colorado State University advocates for women in the field of STEM and helps to create connections within each field to push female students forward as they progress into the work force or graduate school. 

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Claire Goldstein, a senior computer science major with a human center concentration, is the chair for the ACM-W chapter at CSU. Goldstein said that while many people stigmatize women in STEM fields, the goal of the organization is not a support group. Instead, it aims to bring women together to motivate each other and build connections within the computer science field.

“(Computer science) is such a male-dominated field that a lot of people have seen us in the past as a support group,” Goldstein said. “We’re really trying to change our image to be a network of women that are excited and passionate about the field of computer science.”

Women in computer science are often outnumbered by their male counterparts in both classrooms and the professional world. ACM-W aims to encourage women to join computer science and increase representation in each area respectfully.

Josette Grinslade, a third-year computer science major with a human center concentration and the ACM-W secretary, said bringing more diversity into the field will bring about more innovative ideas.

If you’re in a group of people that think the same way, you’re gonna come up with one answer. If you throw in women, and people of color, you’re gonna get different answers to different problems.”-Claire Goldstein, Chair of ACM-W.

“Increasing the diversity (is important) in general, not just because that’s the right thing to do, but (because) it’s important to have people from all different types of backgrounds and experiences,” Grinslade said. “You want all of the top innovators that think differently so they can collaborate and build the best thing.”

To the ACM-W, the advocacy of diversity also extends to intersectional identities within women in STEM majors.

“If you’re in a group of people that think the same way, you’re gonna come up with one answer,” Goldstein said. “If you throw in women, and people of color, you’re gonna get different answers to different problems.”

Grinslade said, many people outside of the department stereotype computer science majors as isolated. In reality, the computer science community is very active. 

People gathered around a table with cards looking very excited.
ACMW celebrates board game night with many people within the computer science field.
(Women in Computer Science)

“People see computer scientists as introverted people who just code by themselves, but that couldn’t be more wrong,” Grinslade said. “You have to be cooperative and collaborative, that’s an essential part of being a computer scientist.”

Sexism is still present in the field of computer science, although it is not always outwardly displayed. 

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“A lot of the times it isn’t explicit sexism,” Grinslade said. “It’s more subtle, but it’s something that I notice and am sensitive to. One thing is my intelligence. I’m a TA for one of the computer science classes. Some people think that I need the help when I’m the one providing the help. Or when I tell people who aren’t in computer science that I’m in computer science, a lot of the times it’s kind of shocking (to them).”

Goldstein and Grinslade are both TA’s for introductory computer science classes, CS 164 and CS 150, respectively. Grinslade said she’s passionate about computer science because there are countless ways it can be applied to different fields, which makes the major seem endlessly useful.

Grinslade wanted to major in biology or anthropology when she was a freshman. Eventually, she decided to stick with computer science because of the versatility of the major. She discovered her passion for human interest within the field.

“I think it’s really important that we have computer scientists that are thinking not just about what they can build, but how they should be building it,” Grinslade said. “How it’s going to impact our society and how it’s going to impact people psychologically. That’s what I’m really passionate about: not just coding and problem solving, but the whole idea of integrating it with society.”

Goldstein said her focus in humanities is due to her passion of working with people and that it was directly linked into the world of computer science. 

“Having a skill that is needed in every single industry now is super valuable,” Goldstein said. “Once I realized what the field of computer science was and learned about this human-computer interaction degree and how they can intertwine, I was hooked.”

ACMW at the Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston.
(ACMW)

Goldstein established a mentoring program over a year ago within the ACM-W that connects younger women in the computer science major with older students. Goldstein said having a mentor is incredibly helpful to younger students to keep them motivated and build them connections to graduates in the workplace.

“Coming into the computer science department, we’ve acknowledged that it’s a little intimidating,” Goldstein said. “We really want to break down that intimidation factor … The idea is to have chains. If I go work at HP, I can go back to CSU and talk to freshman girls about why computer science is a good major to be in.”

On top of building networks and attending events, the ACM-W also hosts several social events to offer fun ways to build community outside of school, such as intermittent board game nights.

I think it’s really important that we have computer scientists that are thinking not just about what they can build, but how they should be building it…That’s what I’m really passionate about; not just coding and problem solving, but the whole idea of integrating it with society.”-Josette Grinslade, Secretary of ACM-W.

Goldstein said that her doubts as a computer science major in a competitive professional field have weighed on her, just as they have weighed on many other students in the major. Goldstein said her doubts are often silenced by the rewarding feeling of her successful mentorship program. Tearing up, Goldstein said students giving her positive feedback from her mentorship program has been one of the most rewarding experiences in her college career.

“I picked my mentee up from the lab (to) get dinner and we were in my car driving,” Goldstein said. “She goes, ‘Claire, I need to tell you that I really appreciate you being in my life and without you, I wouldn’t be where I am because I didn’t think I could do it.’ She enforced the reason I poured so much effort into the mentoring program.”

Grinslade said her work with ACM-W has been rewarding due to the close relationships she has formed while working in the program. 

“The major attracts very fast learners and people that are able to problem solve very fast, but I think what people fail to realize is that it really requires perseverance,” Grinsdale said. “I tell my students that the number one skill you can have in computer science is the ability to keep going even when you’re frustrated.”

As mentors in computer science, both Goldstein and Grinslade want to teach young women and students that it is okay to fail. Goldstein said Reshma Saujani’s Ted Talk “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection” is one of her many influences that she regularly looks to for inspiration. 

“That idea of learning to be brave is really important, not just for women in computer science, but women in today’s age where we are trying to get full equality,” Goldstein said. “We need to start treating our girls the same way we treat our boys.”

More information about ACM-W can be found at www.cs.colostate.edu/~acm-w/. 

Elena Waldman can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @waldmanelena.