Today is my last day as a teaching assistant for the Girls Who Summer Immersion Program at Autodesk. If there was something I wish I knew at the beginning of my experience that I know now is that a lot of issues will come up but I will not be able to solve all of them. There were some moments where it was challenging to motivate the students to continue working or learning but we had to continue through the material. There were also moments where I felt unprepared for my role because of the questions students had, especially during our robotics and cyber security weeks because those are two areas that I was not skilled in. As I look back onto those moments I realize that the issue was not as serious as I believed it was. We still covered the material and the girls learned a lot, even if it took me some time to help them fix their errors. My teaching team tried to make the material and lessons exciting and understandable, but sometimes our efforts were thwarted by things outside of our control.
The two most important pieces of advice I’d give to someone who is planning to work in the education field would be to have patience and be prepared to help students overcome their fears of failure. There will be days where you will have to repeat directions or information over and over again, sometimes because students weren’t listening or because students are confused by your explanation. Students can also be extremely reluctant to fail. Many will stare at their screen and won’t call on you for help because they’re embarrassed to be the only one who “doesn’t get.” This mindset prevents a lot of student from moving on so it’s vital that you help students, not by giving them solutions but by helping them develop the confidence and skills needed to overcome their issues.
By far my favorite experience has been watching the girls design and create their final projects with their teammates. It’s difficult to settle on one idea with 2-3 other people and figure out how to divide the tasks but the girls took initiative and developed projects that offer solutions to problems they care about. From the beginning to the end, the classroom was full of support and encouragement and it was amazing to see young women work so hard to make their goals become reality.
Over the course of the internship, representation within computer science has been something that has been on my mind. I have always been aware of the lack of representation that exists because of my experiences with CS at Michigan, but this learning environment was completely different. Here, I was surrounded by women and girls who care about disrupting the imbalances within tech. My students were always willing to learn new material and venture outside of their comfort zone so they have motivated me to look into this topic further and reach out to people who work in diversity and inclusion.
I’m not sure if my career goals have now shifted from computer scientist at a company to nonprofit work, but I am sure that I want to work at a company that takes diversity and inclusion seriously. This summer has also led me to discover a surprising preference for smaller companies. I wouldn’t mind working at a large and established company but I enjoyed seeing the collaborations and friendships present at smaller companies and the impact individual employees have on the company.