How to Fall in Love with Computer Science, from a Professor

A woman programmer works at a computer.
April 22, 2015

Professor Kate Lockwood wasn’t always interested in computer science. In fact, she started her undergraduate career majoring in civil and environmental engineering and even tried to get out of taking her required programming class. After a negative experience with programming in an earlier course, she would have been grateful never to take programming again.

But Lockwood surprised herself. “I really, really loved it. I found [myself] procrastinating other classes by working on programming classes!” So she decided to switch majors, pursuing her newfound love of computer science all the way through a doctoral program at Northwestern University.

Her technical focus lies in artificial intelligence, but she is also deeply interested in education. She believes that broadening the reach of computer science is dependent in part on making introductory classes more engaging. She has a special place in her heart for these classes specifically because that was her own avenue into the discipline. She told us about her approach: “I spend part of a couple of days early in the semester talking about the growth mindset. How computer science isn’t just something you’re born being able to do or not. Everyone struggles.”

Kate Lockwood

Kate Lockwood

This tactic isn’t aimed only at the women students (who are a minority in nearly every science field), but it raises the confidence of everyone participating. Lockwood mused, “I see a little bit of myself in my students. I was really hard on myself, I think maybe even harder than I needed to be, and so I often felt like I was failing and struggling and not good at something. Now when I look back on those experiences, I (know I) was probably doing just fine!” Most of all, she wants everyone to truly believe that computer science is a learned skill like any other, which can be mastered with time and practice.

Lockwood spends time on the AAUW selection panel for fellows and grantees (she herself was a 2008–09 Selected Professions Fellow). She also volunteers for the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) as one of the co-chairs of their Academic Alliance Engagement Project Team, where she helps keep people engaged with recruiting and retaining women in technology programs in higher education.

In addition to her work with NCWIT and her teaching role at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, Lockwood also volunteers with the Minnesota Women in Computing conference. This conference is modeled after the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (where Harvey Mudd College has sent many female computer science students as part of its successful initiative to increase the number of women in computing and engineering) and gathers students, faculty, and industry leaders from around the region to talk about women in technology.

Lockwood feels that initiatives like these help to bolster students’ confidence and broaden their view of where they can go with the computer science major. Meeting women working in the field, taking introductory courses with positive reinforcement from professors, and having access to strong advisers and mentors make a world of difference in bringing underrepresented groups into the field of computer science.

At AAUW, we are lucky to have a diverse group of passionate, dedicated women who put their skills and time towards volunteering — and our fellows and grantees are better for that dedication. Women like Kate Lockwood remind us of why we do what we do, and show us what it looks like when research is put into action.


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