Every Tuesday morning a group of teenage girls set their alarms extra early so they can get to Riverside-Brookfield High School by 7:15 a.m. to learn about computer coding. That’s when the RBHS Girls Coding Club, now in its second year, meets.
The club is the brainchild of Riverside resident Ruta Kulbis, who works as a quality control engineer for Accenture, a technology consulting firm.
Kulbis and RBHS math and computer science teacher started the club in the fall of 2014.
“I’m familiar very much with the lack of women in technology through my work, so I approached Sandy,” Kulbis said.
This year Brookfield resident Olga Andrulis, a quality assurance engineer for Computer Associates, a software company, came on board to help lead the club.
Coding is the language of computers, and many believe that it should be taught to everyone since computers are now integral to so many aspects of life and work. Coding is simply writing instructions in a language that tells a computer what to do.
“Familiarity is very important even if you’re not going into a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] field, because that is the language business uses in order to do analysis, in order to make innovations, in order to promote themselves via the Internet. So you need to at least under the basics,” Kulbis said.
At work, Kulbis learned about the national organization Girls Who Code, which aims to stimulate interest in computer science among girls. But at RBHS, Kulbis and Czajka ultimately decided not to affiliate with the national organization, because they wanted more flexibility for their club.
The club is limited to girls, because women are severely underrepresented in computer science classes and careers. According to the Girls Who Code website, only 12 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women. Only 17 percent of students who take the AP Computer Science exam are female. At RBHS, of the 76 students taking the school’s new Computer Science Principles class, only 21 are girls.
“The reason for the club is to provide some dedicated attention to the girls,” Kulbis said. “The guys are included in the computer science classes, and the idea of the club is just to provide that extra emphasis and extra support that girls need.”
An all-girl environment can be more comfortable for girls who are just learning about coding.
“They’re not inhibited,” Andrulis said. “They feel free to ask questions and it’s perfectly fine to be a geek, it’s OK.”
The club sponsors bring in speakers throughout the year to expose the girls to various careers and all the different ways coding can be used. They undertake various projects. Last year they concentrated on music.
“We’ve coded video games, we’ve coded apps, we’ve coded things that show up on your smartphone”, Kulbis said.
Migle Medelis got especially interested in computers when her eighth-grade science class at Komarek School did a unit on robotics. When Medelis got the RBHS last year she saw flier on a wall about the first meeting of the Girls Coding Club so she went. She’s been coming to meetings ever since.
As a freshman last year, Medelis coded about half of the seven tracks of an album she created for her music creativity class. She thinks it’s cool to code.
“For me it’s using my creativity in different ways,” Medelis said. “I’ve done music with it; I’ve done art with it. I’ve done some programs that solve algebraic equations. The club shows a lot of different opportunities and a lot of different ways to use coding.
“I’ve met a lot of people through it, and it’s definitely made my interest go way higher than it was before. It’s really fun and I actually enjoy getting up in the morning.”
And the sophomore isn’t worried if some people might think she’s a nerd or geek because she is a member of a coding club.
“I didn’t really care, because I kind of embrace that side of me,” Medelis said.