UI neuroscientist lets women code

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Postdoctoral neuroscientist Victoria Muller Ewald is launching coding boot camp to encourage more students to learn the skill. She also mentors graduate students and has been involved in various coding initiatives.


Entering graduate school, Victoria Muller Ewald said she never thought she could learn to code, let alone consider it to be an integral part of her research someday. Today, she is involved in initiatives that encourage college to high school students, especially women, to code.

Currently a second-year postdoctoral fellow in the Iowa Neuroscience Specialty Program in Research Teaching, Muller Ewald said she is studying the cerebellum and credit coding as an essential skill in the process.

“I went from studying the front of the brain in animal models to studying the back of the brain in humans – very different,” she said. “And the only thing that bridges the gap is that I know how to code.”

Muller Ewald said his current initiatives – like his next coding boot camp through the UI’s neuroscience graduate club, Hacky Hour, and his upcoming high school project within the national Girls Who Code organization. – are a response to the lack of coding courses to which she had access. as a graduate student in neuroscience.

She said she couldn’t wait to kick off her new project with Girls Who Code. The project is a partnership with United Action for Youth, she said, but will not start until the number of COVID-19 cases decreases.

“But when we’re cleared, I’ll partner with them to recruit high school girls and teach them how to code in Python,” she said.

Regarding the next training camp, she said she is working on the program this week and it is expected to start next month.

Before coding became essential to her graduate work, Muller Ewald said she avoided the task altogether.

“In undergrad… one of my professors told me that if you wanted to go to graduate school, take at least one coding class with the computer science department, and I said, ‘Not at all, that’s it. way too intimidating. Put me in organic chemistry, put me in molecular biology, any day on coding 101, ”then I didn’t, because I was scared. “

But she eventually learned to code in high school with the help of YouTube videos, various books, and her mentor, UI research assistant Jang Jin Kim.

“It was extremely frustrating,” she said. “It was like learning a new discipline.

Muller Ewald said the process has taken years, a length of time she hopes to shorten for younger students through clubs like Girls Who Code, Hacky Hour and Iowa Tech Chicks.

Her involvement with Iowa Tech Chicks, a regional nonprofit, directly addresses the gender gap in coding by encouraging girls as young as middle school and high school to learn to code. With younger girls, she says, most activities don’t involve computers, while older girls learn different computer languages.

“They really tackle the problem from the point of view where it starts when we’re young, which is so true and so correct, that girls and boys have different coding opportunities, so they try to provide those opportunities. to girls, ”she said. noted.

UI Women in Computing Sciences President Janhavi Bodkhe said women in introductory computer science courses have to accept open biases and often lose faith in introductory courses.

“Even after graduating when looking for a job, [there is] that first internalized narrative of “men are better at tech than women,” Bodkhe said.

Current club manager Kerry Tarrant, UI graduate student, said he was impressed with Muller Ewald’s ability to communicate with students and that she was a hardworking agent within the group.

Muller Ewald also mentors graduate students in UI and helps them code every Wednesday afternoon via Zoom with Hacky Hour, a student-run graduates organization.

“It has been so gratifying,” said Muller Ewald. “People were curious and motivated, and I found that this is not something people cannot learn.”

Gender disparities are another reason Muller Ewald said coding initially scared her.

“It’s funny the subconscious power of representation,” she said. “[It] didn’t make me say, “Oh, that means I can’t do it, because there aren’t any other women,” consciously. “

The president of the IT department of the UI, Alberto Maria Segre, wrote to in an e-mail to *The Iowan Daily * that computing, and not just coding, faces a national gender diversity issue.

“Research shows that girls and boys are equally interested in technology until the age of 10 or 11, girls quickly lose interest in STEM + C fields by the age of 15,” said he wrote. “As a public institution, we have a responsibility to help improve the pipeline even in the early stages.”

The undergraduate population of IU is almost 55% female. The computer science major has only about 14.7% female, according to the 2020 plan to expand the participation of the computer science department into computer science.

Muller Ewald said she wanted to increase the representation of women in coding and help female students overcome the “unconscious hurdle” she was facing.

“I want to help the students get over this,” she said.


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