Sunset Park

Industry City’s Innovation Lab hosts all-female computer science program for cyber security

August 24, 2018 By Jaime DeJesus Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Students participating in Computer Science for Cyber Security program in Industry City. Eagle photo by Jaime DeJesus

They’re in a class all their own.

This summer, NYU Tandon collaborated with Industry City and the Oath Foundation to host a three-week Computer Science for Cyber Security (CS4CS) program for female high school students, many of them from Sunset Park High School.

The classes, which were held at IC’s Innovation Lab at 274 36th St., concluded on Friday, Aug. 18. Twenty-six girls were chosen for the exclusive program that received hundreds of applicants.

Instructors taught the girls, ages 13-18, about everything from cryptography and hashing to the types of vulnerabilities that exist in current internet infrastructure.

Phyllis Frankl, professor and associate department head of NYU Tandon’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, said the experience was an important one for young women.

“We think it is a really important to expose young women to opportunities to study computer science and cybersecurity,” she said. “They are really interesting areas and there are really great job opportunities. Women are underrepresented in these areas and the students don’t always realize that these opportunities are there for them. So having them do a summer program can kind of open their eyes and give them a little bit of background that would be helpful going ahead if they decided pursue these areas when they go to college.”
Though the program has been in existence for five years, this marked the first time that it was held in Sunset Park.

“It’s been nice to bring it closer to where the students live and go to school, and it seems like a very enthusiastic group we have there,” Frankl added. “We are looking for ways to scale the program up, like afterschool groups and clubs in a bunch of high schools, so that’s a good step for that as well.”

Leading instructor for CS4CS in Sunset Park, Tanzila Rahman, also discussed the significance of bringing the program to Sunset.

“I think a lot of the local girls have never done anything like this before and if they have, they haven’t gotten beyond a little programming experience — and now they are facilitating their own instruction,” she said, praising the students. “I had one of the girls say, ‘Hey. I don’t understand that. Could you say that in a different way?’ That was incredible for me because here’s a student who wasn’t going to feel bad about not knowing something and put it on the instructor to explain it’s not working for [her]. That’s a power that a lot of students don’t have.”
Making it an all-female class was significant, the two stressed.

“I think that it has, for many of them, given them a chance to learn something that they might not have had access to in their high schools, and being in an all-female environment like that can be empowering for young women. It makes it easier for them to realize that they can do that stuff,” said Frankl. “It’s important because it can help students realize this is an area they can excel in, and in coed classes they might feel intimidated by some guys that may know some of the material or who don’t know it and act like they do. We feel doing it in the single gender mode has worked out very well.”
“There are not enough women in computer science, but even fewer women are in the cyber security field of computer science,” added Rahman. “A lot of times, if you don’t have don’t have the perspective, you will miss out on vulnerabilities and threats, so literally half the population is not present in these conversations and these teams. And we wanted specifically to have an all-girl high school class because when boys are in a co-ed class, it doesn’t impact their academic performance. When girls are, they do worse. If we can give them the space that allows them to thrive then why wouldn’t we?”

The students also shared their experiences.

“The first few days, I felt like I was learning it — but after we finished the program, I could see myself in the future sitting in front of a computer and having a job in the computer science field,” said 15-year-old Savia Zamam. “I like the forensics aspect of it because I’ve always been fascinated by crime-fighting and all that stuff. One guest speaker was a digital forensics investigator at Morgan Stanley. She talked about her journey and how she made it to where she is now. That’s really motivational. I never thought there would be a way to put these two together.”

“I feel like being in a class full of women really helped me realize that not only men can do this kind of work, and that I have a community of women in computer science I can turn to,” added 15-year-old Shayla Peterson.

Rahman was thrilled with their progress by the end of the class.

“I’ve seen an incredible shift in what they came in knowing and what they’re leaving with,” she said. “Also, I’ve seen an incredible shift in their attitude. They came in saying ‘I’m not good at this.’ Now they’re trying, and some of the girls that were shy and timid about even trying are the ones helping their classmates.”

 

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