Illinois Women in Computer Science’s ChicTech is an annual overnight retreat for high schoolers to gain exposure to Computer Science, which was held this year from November 2nd to November 3rd.
ChicTech is a program that was founded by the Illinois CS department in 2005. Since then, it’s gone through dozens of changes, including WCS taking up a larger role in its planning. Regardless, its core goals have remained the same.
Our first goal was for students to experience computer science in a fun and interesting way, especially for those with less experience and from underrepresented groups. In order to accomplish this, the retreat featured several technical workshops including Python 101, a Java Chatbot workshop, and an Intro to Git class, as well as theoretical workshops such as Encryption, Mobile Apps, and UI/UX Design, all of which were taught by current UIUC students. These workshops over the period of both days allowed our attendees to experience computer science hands-on via programming, terminal, and design thought application.
Our second goal was for them to see successful women in computer science to give them a different picture of what success in the field can look like compared to what media and popular culture shows. We did this in three parts, starting off with a panel of female students in Illinois CS, who spoke to attendees about their backgrounds and their current pursuits at the university, gave advice for preparing for college, and busted some myths surrounding being a woman in CS. Later on, we were privileged to have Professor Sarita Adve as our faculty speaker for the retreat. Professor Adve’s talk was engaging, insightful, and inspirational for the participants as she discussed Computer Science and its various applications to other fields.
To close off the retreat, we had two corporate speakers and former Illinois alumni, Jenny Ho and Sarah van der Bleek, from Google. They spoke to students and their parents about their experiences as students at Illinois, as well as in the corporate world. Google University Programs Specialist Andrew McHugh was also present to talk to attendees about Google and future opportunities at the company.
Our third and final goal was to provide a computer science experience in a welcoming and friendly environment for girls and minorities, which many students don’t get in high school. One of our favorite activities at the retreat was a campus-wide scavenger hunt that enabled attendees from different backgrounds and high schools to meet each other and work together. Additionally, they got to explore the Illinois campus to find several landmarks such as Alma Mater and the VR Lab in Siebel. The scavenger hunt became pretty competitive, as the first group to get back with a photo at every landmark was rewarded with a prize! Finally, we ended Saturday with a movie night, where the students got time to relax, bond over games and snacks, and talk to present students while Wonder Woman played in the background.
The planning for this year’s ChicTech began in June 2019 by the co-chairs of WCS Outreach, the primary organizers. However, there were several others who were essential to the retreat’s success. Firstly, Cynthia “CJ” Coleman, the Associate Director of External Relations for the CS department, was there with us every step of the way, and was present for nearly the entire weekend to help out. In fact, CJ has been working with ChicTech now for over a decade! Also a big thank you to our design chair, Claire Chiu, for the gorgeous new logo she made for us this year, and all her help with flyers and other promotional materials. Finally, a huge thanks to our 60 student volunteers, who took anywhere from one hour to over five hours out of their weekend to make this retreat an amazing experience. ChicTech is WCS’ biggest volunteer event of the year, and we are so grateful that the Illinois CS community came out in force to make it a success. We couldn’t have done this without any of these people!
As a final note, if you have any questions about WCS Outreach or want to be involved with ChicTech in the future as an attendee or as a volunteer, take a look at our website or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. :)