Finding your place in computer science

Alejandro Castaneda, WiCS 2020-21 student president

How a Portland State student group makes the major more welcoming for all

If you’re a current or prospective computer science student, you may have heard of We in Computer Science, more commonly known as WiCS, one of PSU’s student-led computer science groups. But do you know much about the group’s goals or what it offers for CS students? WiCS’s 2020-2021 president, Alejandro Castaneda, weighs in on four key things to know about the group.

1. Name

WiCS was originally founded as “Women in Computer Science” by a group of women at PSU who felt that they didn’t belong and that there wasn’t a space for them in computer science.

That out-of-place feeling was largely due to a general trend in tech: “As courses go on to the upper division, the amount of women and people of color in classes just drops down significantly,” Alejandro explains. “This is something seen throughout the whole industry, where people of color and women have higher burnout rates . . . It’s this culture of tech that is very exclusionary.”

The group was later renamed to “We in Computer Science” as an acknowledgement that several groups —including women and people of color as well as LGBTQIA+ and gender non-conforming people, first-generation immigrants, and disabled people — face this exclusionary culture.

2. Mission

Its name may have changed, but WiCS has always focused on supporting each of these groups that have been historically underrepresented in computer science. WiCS envisions a future in which these groups are truly included — a future in which diversity is celebrated and people can truly feel that they belong in computer science.

WiCS works to build this future by providing a community in which members can receive advice and guidance from people who may have been through similar experiences. Essentially, as Alejandro says, “In case they are struggling, or in case they’re feeling alone, they have this whole community that is also there to support them.”

“In case they are struggling, or in case they’re feeling alone, they have this whole community that is also there to support them.”

— Alejandro Castaneda, WiCS 2020-21 president

3. Mentorship program

WiCS’s mentorship program is one major way in which it builds this community. Mentees are paired up with a mentor (who can, in turn, also be a mentee if they so choose). It’s one of WiCS’s biggest highlights, Alejandro says. The mentor helps foster connections between their mentee and the rest of the WiCS community, and helps guide them through courses and jobs.

The 2020-2021 school year marks the third year of the program, and with 23 mentors and 36 mentees total, it’s still going strong even in this year’s remote world.

4. Events

Aside from its mentorship program, WiCS also holds several events throughout the year designed to help and support its community. Here are the big ones:

  • Annual Winter Career in Tech Night: A workshop in which local tech companies are connected with WiCS members to provide real-world advice for resumes, internships, interviews, networking, hiring standards, and everything else career-related.
  • Annual Spring Hackathon: Participants work with a team over a weekend on a real coding project to encourage community growth and bolster coding skills for students of ALL levels.
  • Monthly Town Halls: These often feature presentations from members of the tech community and discussions about how to both improve and thrive within the industry.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about WiCS is that they want you to get involved. Alejandro advises checking out WiCS’s website and its Slack channel, and recommends people who are curious to come to one of the events it hosts.

Just taking the initiative to attend a WiCS event is a fantastic first step. “Even if your video’s off, even if your mic is on mute, you still showed up,” Alejandro says. That bit of involvement can lead to deeper participation and connection, and can potentially create an experience that’ll stick with you for years.

WiCS may focus on supporting groups that are historically underrepresented in computer science in particular, but that doesn’t mean that only people in those groups can be a part of its community. Anyone who shares WiCS’s vision of a future where everyone can feel welcome in computer science is encouraged to take that first step and check the group out!

— University Communications

Getting Used to MyPSU and the New PSU App

me-1 By Kimberly Nakayama

Sometimes, I feel that my experience in college is just me using my laptop in a variety of different settings. However I always wish that doing “important” PSU stuff online, like paying bills or updating my major, would be much simpler so that I could spend more time focusing on other things. So, when someone told me about the myPSU update, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that PSU had actually been working to fix this exact problem.

As a senior, I usually just go between the web pages that I am already familiar with like D2L and Banweb. I’ve found that in between classes, work, and everything else I’m supposed to be doing, it hasn’t really been a priority for me to improve my usage of university technology. I think that, like most students at PSU, I am definitely not using PSU technology for “fun.” So I was a little skeptical at how “different” another PSU web page would actually be and how much it could actually improve my experience as a student.

After using MyPSU, however, I saw that this negative perception was out-of-date. It took a little adjusting, to be sure, but I quickly found that it was much more efficient in accessing all kinds of information about PSU. One problem that I’ve faced as a PSU student is that there are so many departments and events and staff that it can be hard to hear about specific news. MyPSU, however, has compiled a live news source that shows social media announcements from a number of different departments which makes this process so much simpler. They also offer an interactive list of active resources on campus, so if you are looking for support or to get involved on campus it is so much simpler to connect with these organizations.

In general, I think that MyPSU is a much simpler way to access information that all students need. I’ve found that I now spend much less time scrambling around online for specific web pages. The organized homepage has labelled certain sections that contain a ton of information about specific topics like registration, financial aid, and classes. This means that I can see the entirety of PSU web pages regarding a particular topic, rather than to wonder if I had managed to find every bit of information out there myself.

The best part, a MyPSU app is also available, which allows you to access different web pages from a smartphone rather than always having to use a computer. So definitely be sure to check out the new MyPSU update! I hope that it can help other students so that they can spend more time on the things that really matter.

Do The Math: Get A Tutor

Version 2 By: Anna Sobczyk

Not too long ago, I thought I was good at math. For some reason, it just always clicked with me and because of this, I chose to minor in math. Then I started Calculus III—and nothing was clicking. During the lectures, I stared blankly at whatever new theorem the instructor was scribbling on the board, thinking, “I’ll get it later.” When I clearly wasn’t getting it, my inner narration changed to a constant, “What the hell is going on?”

After the first homework assignment, I realized if I wanted a great grade in the course, I’d need to put effort into it. At first, I was hesitant to try out the free tutoring services offered by PSU. I was embarrassed for needing help—especially in a subject I’ve provided tutoring for in the past

My determination to do well trumped the shame I felt at seeking help. I visited both the Learning Center located on the second floor of the PSU Library, and the Tutoring Table in the third floor atrium of Neuberger Hall. The Learning Center provides free drop-in tutoring for several different subjects. The tutoring table in Neuberger Hall is all about math.

After I’d put the time in to see a couple different tutors, math began to make sense again. I could sit through the lectures, and despite continuing to leave confused most of the time, I’d think, ‘It’s ok—you won’t fail this class!

Ultimately, Calculus III has taught me more about overcoming my fear of getting help than about infinite series. Below are the links to the resources I turned to and vouch for 100%. After all, it’s because of these tutors I was able to ace my first Calc III exam.

NH Math Tutor Schedule

Learning Center’s tutoring schedule